Since the very night of the victory of Donald Trump, liberal progressives of many stripes have expressed bewilderment and all-but terror at the prospect of how to explain to their children how and why America could make such an astoundingly shocking decision. Most notable was Van Jones, who on CNN the night of the election cried, “How do I explain this to my children?”
Asking this single question, and providing an opportunity for wisdom and direction in dialogue, may go down as Van Jones’ single greatest contribution to American culture. But while I have read attempts to answer this question, none has yet arisen to a level commensurate with the magnitude of the opportunity.
Weak as I may be, I would like to try my hand at this. For what it’s worth, here’s my model for liberal progressives on what to say to their children about why America chose Trump:
Dear [choose the appropriate relational term: name/son/daughter/nonbinary-, genderqueer-, agender-, androgyne-, genderfluid-, or neutrois-child/youngling/etc.],
I have some good news and some bad news. I sat up all night trying to think of how to tell you this. I, and all my friends, have been dreading having to face this at breakfast this morning. But here goes.
The bad news, first, is that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton.
I know, I know. It’s going to be OK.
I know this is upsetting to you. You have watched me spend the past year yelling and saying bad words at TV screens and my iPhone because of Trump. You probably fear now, too, because I will be yelling and screaming at TVs and smartphones for four more years.
I know I have taught you not to be a bully or a bigot, and yet it seems like America prefers a bully and a bigot. How do we deal with this? Well, there’s only one way to face uncomfortable truths, and that is to face up to them, and to admit what we have done wrong in the process that has helped bring this problem about. This will be difficult for me to do, but my therapist [you don’t have to mention that Joel McDurmon was your therapist on this one] said I can either keep living a lie, or do the adult thing and put the truth on the table and deal with it. I have chosen the adult path. This is the good news.
Now, since I’m your [appropriate non-patriarchal parental term], you probably trust me and believe the things you hear me say. This means you believe every bad thing I have said about Trump during the past year. I have to admit, that while he has said and done some very bad things, the news I have listened to has caused me to think of him only as a completely bad man in everything he says and does, a man incapable of any good thing, and who will use his power to hurt people like Hitler did.
I have to admit, dear, [here’s the hard part: try deep breathing or going for a walk first] this is not entirely fair of me. And since my liberal professor told me justice is all about fairness, I can’t think of any greater sin [be brave and call it what it is] than not being fair, even to those I disagree with. So, at all costs, I’ll try to be fair now.
My behavior was especially not fair because I virtually ignored a long list of bad things my own liberal progressive candidates did and said. I ignored every news report from the other side. I only believe evil about Trump and good things about Hillary. This behavior is typical, by the way, for virtually any conservative against any liberal progressive. This is why our friends call Trump “Hitler” but called Obama “Jesus.” See, that’s not entirely unbiased, is it? But then again, it’s also why some conservatives called Obama “Stalin” and Trump “Jesus.”
(This is not true, of course, when liberal progressives contend against each other; you remember how I said Hillary was the most evil thing in the world when I supported Bernie Sanders? And you remember how confused you were when I then came out and supported Hillary when she was nominated? Well, that was my fault, too. Wow, I can’t believe what I hear myself saying. My unfairness really is worse than I thought! [This is good. Let it flow, let it flow.])
I guess I was doing the very same thing I said conservatives were doing: spreading hate and yelling and screaming “that person ought to be in jail!”
Well, this has been the problem, and it’s a hard problem to break. They don’t listen to us and we don’t listen to them, and we don’t care to or want to. Both sides see the other side as the embodiment of evil, we call them that, and seek only to dominate and destroy them politically. So there is never any true self-examination, so the deepest sins of our nation never get addressed. We’re too busy trying to win elections for evil people against other evil people. When we win, we can’t address the deep problems because we must maintain the façade that our choice was the right one and can do no wrong. Thus, the deep problems not only don’t get addressed, they become business-as-usual, accepted, and sometimes even praised under new names.
If the other side does seem to make a strong point, we try everything we can to dismiss them: we call them crooks and liars, we magnify their evils and downplay our own, we wait a few days hoping news will change and people will forget. Sometimes, we make up our own lies to help this cycle along. (Even if they catch us lying, we just deny it until something else in the news distracts people again. If nothing comes along, we’ll create a disruptive rally or something and the news guys (sorry, news persons) will follow along.)
I confess, my own behavior has added to the division in our country, and happened mainly because I only listen to news sites I agree with, and the ones I agree with I treat as infallible. I only read tweets from my favorite celebrities. I defend everything they defend and hate everything they hate. I’ve been ignorant of much, and haven’t really done much of my own thinking or extended much of the compassion and tolerance I brag about to people I disagree with. And I made these mistakes while saying the other side is ignorant, doesn’t do their own thinking, and doesn’t extend any compassion or tolerance to people they disagree with. I guess I have to admit that I’m a big hypocrite. [Yes, this is progress.] Sometimes, I have found myself criticizing others for behaviors I turned right around and justified for myself.
By the way, because of the divisive intolerance of Trump supporters, we disinvited your sister from Thanksgiving dinner this year. She voted for Trump. It’s OK, though, because other people are doing it, too. But look on the bright side: many of my friends from work are joining us this year because they can’t stand the idea of joining their own families that voted for Trump. So, we’re not really being intolerant; it’s more like we’ll be like one big adoptive liberal progressive family, really. I think.
But here’s the biggest problem we have to understand about how divided we are and how dangerous that division is. You see, the issue of which party holds political power is crucial because of what the government is. The civil government is the institution of the legal right to use force against other people. I am talking ultimately about the threat of physical punishment enforced at gunpoint. Yes, we threaten with fines, confiscation, and jail time first, but anyone who ultimately defies any of our measures to the physical end of resisting arrest is liable to be beaten and even shot by arresting officers.
Now, some people called “libertarians” and some fewer called “Christian Reconstructionists” think the government ought to be way smaller and have less power, and that we should only use its force to bring justice for crimes like stealing, murdering, seizing other people’s privates without their consent, lying under oath, or mishandling classified information. We don’t listen to these people, and they never win elections anyway.
Because we don’t listen to these minorities, we have a huge, massive, powerful government that can do virtually anything it wants with impunity and with the cloak of legitimacy. People will submit to it, and they stand by idly as the government applies its force to anyone who does not submit to it.
Elections, child, are about who can gain the right to use this power for themselves.
Since we don’t listen to the small government people, we are locked in a crucial struggle for power that vast consequences for winner and loser. We only think in terms of imposing physical government power on other people to enforce our agenda. Since we believe they will do it to us if they are in power, our only hope is to do it to them before they can do it to us. Of course, we progressives have always wanted to impose our values on people through government coercion, and so conservatives and Christians react the same way we do. They know we will do it to them, so their only hope is to do it to us before we can do it to them.
Again, we don’t listen to the small government folk. That would be out of the question. Without taxes and the power to print money, who would build muh schools? (Oh my! Did I just say “muh”? I’m sounding like a. . . . ) Excuse me, dear. Who would build all the wonderful roads, schools, courts, military protection, food stamps, to fund special interests in some corporations (like alternative energy companies), sexual education courses, early child care for working mothers, and interdisciplinary degrees in transgender Buddhist psychology? Exactly. So, we need the large government.
The problem is, conservatives want it large, too. They just want it for some different reasons than we do, like the power to print money, for roads, schools, courts, military protection, early child care for working mothers, funding projects with their big corporate cronies, and starting wars to create an endless market for bombs and planes to drop them.
Well, now that I’ve said all that, I do have to admit that a lot of our reasons actually overlap. But the main thing we end up agreeing on is that government must be big and powerful. Maybe it’s big government that’s the problem. Maybe small government really would allow people who disagree with each other to live next door to each other and not want to impose force on them at threat of government gun point. Maybe there’s so little tolerance and peace in the world because there’s too much government. Wow. I’ll have to give that some thought, maybe.
But this is why elections are so tense, and why we get very emotional about them. Each election is a contest of who will grab the legal right and power to force people they disagree with to live according to their values, and to pay for it through money taken from them in some way at gunpoint.
That’s right, dear. In plain terms, elections these days are about which group will get to point guns at the other group and force them to do what they want and to pay for it.
I guess that leads to my biggest confession. I have to confess that, while I’m not a bully like Trump in person, I nevertheless am a bully like Trump through the means of the civil government. I do want the power to grab into people’s pockets, invade their privacy, force them to act according to my values and contrary to their own values and conscience, to sue them for hundreds of thousands of dollars if they defy me, and as a matter of routine practice, take money from them against their will and give it to people and causes with which I agree.
I also have to confess that I think the government should use its power to force people to accept my views of sexual values against their will and to teach those values to their children. If I truly had my way, religious people and conservatives would not even be able to homeschool or private school their children in order to escape this teaching of my sexual values. If they resisted, their children would be taken from them (again, maybe even at gun point), and the parents locked in prison.
So all this, and much more that I haven’t told you, means that, in reality, I am just like all the things I say I hate about Donald Trump.
So, here’s my apology to you, dear child: I am Donald J. Trump. Please forgive me.
Perhaps, as long as we all refuse the small government way of liberty and freedom, we’re all Donald J. Trump.
Until we improve, we’re all Donald J. Trump.
God help us, every one. Enjoy your breakfast, sweetheart.