I keep wondering, in what seems the new, emperor’s-new-clothes-like surreality: where have all the grown-ups gone? Where are the parents, and grandparents? Are we, somehow, in a post-parent as well as post-truth dystopia now?
I can’t imagine all of the parents have actually gone away; I’m a parent, after all, and I’m still here. But it seems as if the common experiences and conventional wisdoms of parenting have been abandoned. I don’t understand it.
Let’s start, as I did, with the Emperor’s New Clothes. We all know the story, of course, and share it with our children. The age of Trump begs the question: did we ever understand what it meant about the pernicious influence of conventionalizing nonsense and lies?
I don’t want to pick a fight with anyone. I appreciate that our perspectives, politics, and priorities may vary. And besides, I refuse to live in a pigeonhole. Yes, I lean left of center ― but some certifiably conservative views make perfectly good sense to me. To whatever extent politics may stand between us, it’s a fenestrated barrier at worst.
I have always felt a strong solidarity with other parents. We all know that rueful look we can share across a room, even with strangers, that says: I SO get it; I’m a parent too. We are a fraternity, and a sorority. We are conjoined in an extended family of common experience. Mayors have famously noted that the ideology of politics erodes at the local level, because there is no “democratic” or “republican” way to pick up the trash. There is no partisan way to change a diaper, either; or tend a broken heart; or reprimand a dangerous adolescent folly.
So, I am not picking a fight ― quite the contrary. I am reaching out to you as my cousins to ask: what the hell is going on?
We indulge our children in fantasy- the tooth fairy, Santa Claus- but then participate in the sometimes painful process of helping them to mature out of it. Every parent confronts the ― “it’s time to acknowledge that Santa Claus isn’t real” ― trauma, and most of us are thankful if we discover that our child figured it out while we weren’t looking. But what about a grown-up who consigns melting glaciers to a “Chinese hoax”? How, exactly, are the Chinese doing it? Are they drugging the Tang at NASA? Are they perpetrating mass hypnosis of the world’s climate scientists? Are they changing the world’s climate to…make us all think the world’s climate is changing?
The contention, by the president of the United States, has all the plausibility of the Tooth Fairy. Where are the parents, of both parties, with that rueful roll of the eyes that says: “of course, it’s nonsense!”?
But there is a much stronger basis for the common ground of parents and grandparents than the ground on which glaciers are all melting. Don’t get me wrong- the merits of science are a strong argument in their own right. After all, we are all awash daily in the ambient evidence of scientific prowess, from satellite TV to GPS, smartphones to in-flight WiFi, intracoronary stents to immunotherapy, Airbuses to the absence of smallpox and polio. Quite frankly, there is no way to participate in the most basic aspects of modern living and refute the legitimacy of the scientific process, and its products, without perpetrating hypocrisy. Sorry, but sometimes the truth is harsh, even between cousins. It’s the truth, cousin; deal with it.
But, as noted, there is a better basis for common parental ground in our current predicament. Forget science; let’s talk propriety.
Imagine if your child got detention at school, but blamed it on the teacher’s bad temper. And then fought with friends in the schoolyard, and blamed it on the friends’ stupidity. And later was fired from their job, and blamed it on the employer’s capriciousness. And then crashed into a stopped car at a light while texting, and blamed it on the incompetence of the driver sitting attentively at a red light. And then punched your other child in the nose, and blamed it on the nose attacking the fist. And then…well, you get the idea.
At what point would the pattern require ANY parent to acknowledge: my kid is apparently the problem, and needs some discipline? Long before, I hope, they shoot the school principal and blame the chest for assaulting the bullet.
Our petulant president displays daily behavior no parent would tolerate in a child. The press is the enemy. Judges are the enemy. Australia is the enemy.
It calls upon nothing more, nor less, than the common sensibility of parenthood, and requires no party affiliation to acknowledge what this really means: we have met the enemy, and it is tweeting at us all. An enemy to the legitimacy of any opinion not his own; an enemy to truth.
As parents, it would be our job to discipline a wanton disregard for the rights and reasons of others out of a wayward child. It is no less so as citizens of a country that is the house of our extended, American family. Where are the parents, of both parties and neither, as we devolve into governance by: “I know you are, but what am I!”?
Perhaps the proposition of a wayward child, a petulant bully-in-chief inadvertently imparts the innocence of childhood to our current situation, belying its gravity. If any of you is inclined to think so, permit me to suggest it’s time to re-read Lord of the Flies. Our situation is dire.
It is an era of post-truth only if a nation of parents and grandparents is inclined to dismiss the merit of trust and the value of honesty. It is a world of alternative facts only if parents decide that actual fact and telling the truth no longer matter. It is a time of governance by disparagement and derision only if we, the parents and grandparents of our collective American family, are willing to look on passively as every lesson in propriety we have ever imparted to our children is undermined from the ramparts of misguided power.
Forget about party. Truth is not partisan. Propriety is not partisan. Decency is not partisan. Respect for dissenting views is not partisan. Raising children with good values is not partisan.
Where have all the parents gone?
Dr. Katz, and his wife Catherine, have raised five children, now ages 17 to 28.
Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital
Immediate Past-President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Senior Medical Advisor, Verywell.com
Founder, The True Health Initiative