As I watched the election results roll in tonight, I shifted from hope to anxiety, and then from fear to dread. As it began to sink in that a Trump presidency was likely, my overwhelming thought was my children. How to I explain this to them? How do I explain that a man whose platform was built on xenophobia was elected by more than half of our fellow citizens? How do I explain a country that supports someone like this?
I’ve tried to engage my kids in thinking critically about politics this election season. I’ve allowed them to watch speeches from both sides. I’ve shown them political ads for both parties. We watched some of the debates together. I’ve wanted them to be informed. I also allowed them to bear witness to some of the ugly things that Trump has said. They’ve nade their own conclusions about the kind of person he is, and they’ve expressed a lot of confusion over how someone like him could be supported by many. I’ve shared in this confusion. I haven’t had the words to explain it.
And now this man will be our president.
How do I explain that our country elected someone who treats others with so little respect? Who lacks humility and impulse control? Who insults and mocks others? Who ridiculed a disabled man? Who attacked the family of a fallen soldier? Who incited violence at his rallies? Who lied so freely throughout his campaign?
And aside from the aspects of this man that are generally offensive, how do I explain the ways that he is specifically offensive to my own children? How do I explain to my black sons that our country elected a man who has preyed upon the fears of white supremacy? How do I explain that the alt-right, who attacked our family with racist slurs for months, endorsed this man for president? How do I explain our country wanting a leader who displays such disdain for Muslims and Mexicans? Who spoke so poorly of black people?
And to my daughters . . . how do I explain a country where a misogynist is elected to the highest office? How to I explain a country that turned a blind eye to a man who talked about grabbing women . . . who suggested wives be “traded in” in their 30’s . . . who respects women based on the size of their breasts . . . who sneaks into dressing rooms to watch women change and then brags about it?
Michelle Obama famously suggested that “when they go low, we go high.” Many of us adopted this mantra, but it will be put to the test in the coming years. I’m drawing from this sentiment in how I will frame this for my children.
When my kids wake up tomorrow, I will tell them that Trump won. I will explain that there is a lot of fear in our country, and that this grieves me, and it’s okay for it to grieve them, too. I will talk about my sadness and disappointment. I will give empathy to theirs.
I will also explain that the burden is on us to be advocates to the vulnerable. I will explain that no government leader can change how we interact with our own community. I will implore them to continue to fight for social justice and to be citizens who care about the well-being of others.
I will continue to teach them to oppose bigotry in all forms. I will encourage them to be activists when it comes to fighting racism, homophobia, and bullying. I will ask them to help me in finding ways to show love to immigrants in our own community. As a family, we will step up our efforts.
I will have continued conversations with them on rape culture and the objectification of women. We will talk about how men should treat women and speak of women. We will talk about how Trump’s behavior to women is not something we will accept from people in real life. We will talk about how to stand up to sexism in our personal relationships. We will talk about how we will advance the cause of feminism in our own lives.
I will talk to them about the dangers of white supremacy and our country’s ugly history, and how unsettling it is for some Americans to watch our country’s palette change. I will talk to them about how fear won this election. I will talk to them about how we don’t have to let fear win in our own lives. I will encourage them to continue to celebrate diversity and inclusion, and how we need to be all the more loving in the face of a leader who is not.