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Our teenage daughter often asks, “Is this song vulgar? “Is this singer’s low-cut dress appropriate?” Her parents’ opinions count for something within our four walls, but what about the world stage? What could our daughter or any child learn from the U.S. president and the party for which he stands? The short answer: Most everything he does or says is vulgar, while almost nothing is appropriate. As for his party, it just plays along—exactly what we tell our daughter not to do.
Here is what kids can learn from today’s leader of the free world. First, you should lie or distort the facts whenever it suits your needs. As tallied by the Washington Post, President Donald Trump lied at least two thousand times during his first year in office. He pushes off informed criticism as fake news and sometimes refers to major newspapers as the enemy of the people. Apart from Senator Lindsey Graham and retiring Senator Jeff Flake, hardly any Republican leaders have chastised the president for abusing the truth.
Second lesson: Do whatever it takes to please your backers—big tax breaks and de-regulations for the ultra-rich; small tax breaks and empty promises for the hoi polloi. Most Republicans know that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will add mountains to public debt while worsening health insurance for the poor. Their new law also penalizes research universities by taxing endowment income. But who needs knowledge—especially since most educated people oppose the president? Seeking at least one legislative “success,” Republicans approved a bill whose long-term effects will surely undermine the country’s well-being.
Third lesson: Have illicit fun so long as you don’t get caught. Enjoy yourself but cover your tracks. As a TV star you may be able to grab many women without much protest, with professional entertainers, however, you need to buy their silence. It would be particularly embarrassing if you womanized while your (third) wife was having a baby. Other politicians have resigned when many women accused them of unwelcomed advances. But many people voted for you despite your reputation. New revelations about dubious liaisons can be expunged or ignored.
Fourth, use “strong” language (more vulgar than “vulgar”) to make a point. It’s OK to call some people and whole peoples ugly names so long as most of your followers feel the same way. Your top officials such as the Secretary for Homeland Security can plead amnesia when asked what the president said at a closed meeting.
Fifth, don’t worry about the three R’s. TV is better than books. Tweets are more powerful than pen and pencil or keyboards. Bad grammar and self-centered language (“I’m the greatest,” etc.) are OK if they appeal to your supporters. Don’t bother with history. All the contradictions will just confuse you.
Sixth, eat whatever you want and avoid the gym. The president whips down fast food and takes extra scoops of ice cream. His doctor says most of his vial signs are OK for a man his age. The president also avoids vigorous exercise, bragging that his knees and hips do not need replacing. Getting out in nature is a waste of time. The president’s body, we are told, is in good shape. But what about his soul?
Seventh, claim that you are following God’s will. It’s good PR to attend church from time to time (like your comrade Putin), but if you acquire political clout, use it to line your own pockets and those of your backers. Don’t worry about the lame and the halt. The poor you will have always with you. Let them learn to take care of themselves. As for those who are not white skinned or Christian, kick them out and don’t let more in.
Our daughter (adopted from China), like most American children, goes to school with kids of many colors and cultures. If she follows your example, she will shun and make fun of those who look different from her.
Eighth, be tough with so-called friends and as well as foes. Speak brashly and carry a big stick. If they do something you don’t like, call them out on it loud and clear. If they have a weak spot, get in there and press till it hurts. But if somebody has embarrassing stuff on you, as in Moscow, take it easy on them. Give them treats as needed.
The president and most of his party claim to be God-fearing Christians. (Jews are also OK—at least within the family). Some Christians remember how Martin Luther stuck to his principles. When church and political authorities demanded that he shut up and stop his call for reform, Luther refused and declared, “Here I stand!” But defending “values” as Luther did can get you in trouble. Better to go along with the powers that be.
These are some of the lessons the president and his party can offer our children. Bottom line for parents: Don’t let your kids take after the current president and his sycophants. Point children (and adults) in the opposite direction. Turn the pages of history and find leaders whose qualities your kids can emulate. My book America and the World, 1898-2015, competed just as the Clinton presidency ended, described a country respected not only for its material power but also for its support for humane values at home and abroad. Two decades later, the Trump administration’s policies and disregard for humane values have vitiated not only respect for the same country but even the influence of its hard power assets.
America and the World, 1898-2025: Achievements, Failures, Alternative Futures (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000).