The night before the Brexit referendum, I went to bed having told my children that Brexit might happen, but it probably wouldn’t. I woke up at 2am to to discover that the racist, anti-immigration, protest vote had won and Britain was leaving the EU.
Last night, when I kissed my half-British, half-American girls goodnight, I said that they might wake up the next morning with the first woman president in the US’s history. “That’s so silly mom,” my six-year-old said. “Why haven’t they had a woman?”
I agreed. “So silly.”
Now my kids want to know why Trump, who they know has denigrated women, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled people, the media, democracy, and anyone who dared challenge him, has won the US presidency.
Van Jones, the US political commentator and activist, summarized beautifully and tragically what it is to be a parent this morning.
“It is hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids ‘don’t be a bully’. You tell your kids ‘don’t be a bigot’. You tell your kids ‘do your homework, be prepared.” And then you have this outcome and you have people putting children to bed tonight and they are afraid of breakfast. They are afraid of how to explain this.”
Here’s the answer: tell them what happened with honesty and empathy.
Tell them that America is a country that is so divided that a man who stands for things we in our family deplore—racism, crass sexism, and petty score-settling—won. Many Americans feel that the economy and the political system are against them. So they supported a person who promised he could fix their problems, give them jobs, and make them feel safe. The problem is, he did it in the worst way possible: by making others feel small, by mocking differences.
We must not, however, react by demonizing Trump, however deplorable we may find him. We must do it by making our kids feel safe and controlling our anger.
We must celebrate everything that Trump does not stand for. We must invite our friends of every race, color, sexual orientation, and religion over, and show our kids that Trump cannot plant hatred where there is commonality and respect. We talk about the power of words to hurt people. We talk about the people we want to be, and the leaders we hope to raise. We must encourage kids to find ways to be even kinder and more understanding today, to make sure, in time, our narrative wins in the long run. We remember that half the country did not vote for Trump, and that they find his arrogance offensive.
I have always believed the US to be a flawed, but exceptional country. Since we left three years ago to live in the UK, I have missed it deeply: its openness, its raw enthusiasm, its commitment to self-improvement. I couldn’t wait to bring my kids home. I don’t feel that urgency anymore.
Being a parent means being a grown-up, and sometimes that entails harnessing more self-control than you feel is possible. I would like to say to my kids that the scariest thing I could ever imagine just happened, and that I am disgusted by the choice of a bigot for president. I would like to quote David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, who wrote:
On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.
But I won’t. I will say that we are going to work together as a family to make more people feel included everywhere we go, so that his message of anger and revenge falls on deaf ears.
It will no doubt be a work in progress.
Obama lifted us up, gave us hope, made us think we could build a better tomorrow. Trump’s victory reminds us that we have not delivered on that promise, that we are not in proximity to the problems affecting so many others.
Here’s how we feel today, as captured by William Butler Yeats in “The Second Coming”:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Here’s what I—we—will say to our children:
It will be okay. We are lucky to live in a democracy and we will honor the outcome of the election. We will fight to make the country better, a country where hate has no place. We will show respect, kindness, and resolve. We are better together than we are apart. Even with Donald Trump in the White House.