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This Election, Think Like A Parent

When Trump makes veiled threats of gun violence against Hillary Clinton, I can't help thinking that a child would be suspended or even expelled from school for such talk.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Eau Claire, Wisconsin U.S. November 1,  2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Eau Claire, Wisconsin U.S. November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Much has been made of Donald Trump's bullying manner, especially in the wake of the interrupt-a-thon that passed for a presidential debate last week, but as a parent, I've been deeply dismayed by it for months. Why are so many people--some of them presumably decent folk, not dyed-in-the-wool bigots or white supremacists--willing to tolerate, in Trump, behavior that few of us would tolerate in our friends, our colleagues or our children? Even halfway competent parents hold their children to a higher standard than the one to which Trump is being held, and that blows me away.

When Trump makes veiled threats of gun violence against Hillary Clinton, I can't help thinking that a child would be suspended or even expelled from school for such talk. When he spews mockery of the most puerile sort against disabled people, women, immigrants and fat people, among others, I think how ashamed most parents would be to hear their child speaking such words. What parents would be proud that their child is the mean kid, the playground bully, the class jerk? And yet a surprising number of people seem not only to tolerate but to relish that behavior in a man who aims to represent us as a nation.

Driving on the highway the other day, I had the all-too-familiar experience of signaling to change lanes and being ignored by a big SUV that made no attempt to slow down or let me in. And as I pulled in behind it with a sigh, thinking how many of us have that experience every day, I realized Donald Trump is that selfish SUV: all he cares about is how fast he can get ahead, so he behaves as if rules about sharing the road don't apply to him.

Donald Trump is the guy who cuts you in line, elbows you on the sidewalk, runs the stop sign on the corner, throws his garbage onto your street. He is the boss who enjoys screaming at you, who enjoys docking your pay--who enjoys firing you. He is that person who inflicts small, daily humiliations and injustices on the rest of us, because all that matters to him is how he feels--and to him that feels great. When, in response to Clinton's statement about the years in which he paid no federal taxes, Trump leaned into his microphone and bragged, "That makes me smart," he was being absolutely truthful about his worldview and we must listen carefully. The only thing that matters to Donald Trump is Donald Trump, and that kind of dire selfishness is not an example for our children.

So much damage has already been done. My eleven-year-old daughter and I were discussing what qualities are needed in a presidential candidate, and she said, with completely seriousness, "You have to be good at trash talk." By enabling Trump to advance this far, someone who doesn't even try to hide his gleeful contempt for others, we've already warped our children's respect not only for the Presidency, but their respect for the country and even for us, as the adults who've allowed this to happen.

The United States of America has always celebrated the individual, but we have an equally strong ethos of national pride and patriotism that would be meaningless without the collective. We may be a nation of individual strivers, but we also teach our children to try to get along, to be kind to others, to work together. And although our American collective inevitably fractures along racial, religious and gender lines--as it does everywhere in the world--good parents in every group have the same basic goal for their children: to be decent human beings. Our definitions of exactly what "decent" means may differ, but we can surely agree it would be the rare parent who wants a child to be cruel, rude, or selfish.

So whatever your party affiliation, whatever your faith or race or class, please consider the message we would send our children by allowing Trump, a person who openly and unapologetically behaves worse than we teach them to do, to become President. How could we ever again tell them that kindness and decency and tolerance matter? If you're rooting for your child to become the class bully, you may vote for Trump with a clear conscience. For the rest of us, the choice to defeat him should be clear.