The mom sees the TV coverage of the presidential candidate taking the podium at his rally and swiftly grabs the remote while her kids stare wide-eyed at the screen. She quickly presses the mute button and exhales. After all, her children are only eleven and thirteen.
You want the truth about what it means to be presidential? I think you can handle it.
Before we begin, let me set the tone by sharing synonyms for the word presidential: dignified, diplomatic, official, top-level. With the current election season ethos I thought it might help to be reminded.
I know politics has long been contentious, but it appears we have hit an all-time low. It is one thing to try to explain different political viewpoints to our kids, but who knew parents now would have to explain why presidential candidates are allowed to talk in a way that merits punishment in most middle-schoolers’ households?
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We have been careening towards disaster for a while. In December my oldest and I were listening to a story on NPR about the Trump campaign demanding an apology from the Clinton campaign for suggesting that Trump had become an ISIS recruiting tool (wait, did I just say Trump was a tool? No, maybe I just repeated that Clinton said Trump was a tool . . . and obviously repeating what someone else said removes you from all responsibility for whatever comes out of your own mouth #election2016). “Wait . . . is Donald Trump asking someone to say sorry for something they said about him?” my son asked. I said yes and he laughed. Indeed.
Then the story ended with the response from the Clinton campaign when asked if they were going to apologize: “Hell, no!”
“Wow,” my son remarked as I sighed and turned off the radio.
Wow, is right. I am feeling a loss that I can’t fully explain; I am searching for Atticus from To Kill A Mockingbird in the midst of this Go Set A Watchman mess. I want my president to be better than me. And better than the stars of my favorite reality show soap operas.
When my son was in kindergarten my husband and I travelled for a week while the grandparents babysat. Upon our return we learned that every day we were gone my son wore his blue blazer to school to emulate Abe Lincoln, a president he had just learned about in his class. Knowing it was an unusual week for our family the teachers just rolled with it. I think given the disruption to his normal routine he was searching for a way to feel strong and brave. So he acted like the President . . . which involved wearing his dressiest attire, not getting his mouth washed out with soap.
I always knew democracy was messy – I just didn’t realize it was also possibly profane. I suppose we won’t know exactly what we are dealing with until the primary season runs its course – dare I hope that the voters won’t reward belligerent behavior? Because the truth is, the President of the United States is ultimately defined by those who elect him . . . a potentially troubling thought as a frenzied public drives poll numbers higher and higher. I am further sobered by the synonym for the word trump: winner.
Want to get a better handle on what it means to be presidential? Check out this photo gallery from Time.com of the 2016 candidates looking the part, use the cows from Extremely Smart to explain political positions to your kids, and be glad that we can laugh about it all with this presidential debate collection from SNL.