Almost a week ago, my mother-in-law pulled me aside after she brought my son home from an afternoon at her house.
“Did you hear what our President said?”
I had not, so she pulled up a news video on her phone. When it was over, I shrugged. Were his comments really any different from hundreds of his other shocking statements? And while my husband and I put dinner on the table and talked with our boys about their day and then cleaned up the dishes and helped with homework and played trains and Legos and then picked up toys and performed the bedtime routine, I was not thinking about the top news story of the day.
But when the boys were asleep and the house was quiet, I opened my laptop and watched the news clips and read the articles. Very quietly, I began to feel something build within me that I had not felt in a while. For a long time I lay in bed, unable to sleep, and thought about what the President said.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I could identify what I was feeling: rage. I felt rage for many reasons, but chief among them was my own complacency. My sensibilities had been so overwhelmed by a year of national and global turmoil, of tweets and soundbites that shocked and angered and saddened and feared, that they were now deadened to the notion that the President of the United States, the leader of our nation and our representative to the world, had used the most base language when describing an entire continent with millions of people who did not look like him. It was just another headline I was able to ignore and move in with my day, as if everything were normal.
Wait, normal? This is not normal. When had I accepted that the abnormal had become the norm?
It has now been days since the alleged words were uttered and a highly charged incident has come even more politicized. But at its core, this is not about politics. This is not about partisanship. This is about being human and having a basic level of respect for others.
In past presidencies, we have looked to our commander-in-chief to embody the American morals and values that we hold so dear. Today, we look instead for ways to excuse our President’s troubling behavior and words, but as parents, we should be shaken to our core.
As parents, we need to ask hard questions: what damage is being done when we succumb to complacency? Are we comfortable raising our children in a nation where our President speaks disparagingly about foreign countries and their peoples? How do we teach our children American principles when our President fails to live by them? What changes are we willing to make as parents, as individuals, as Americans, to ensure that this country is kinder, safer, and more respectful to all children, and all people no matter where we come from, who we love, who we worship, or what we look like?
I am going to be honest. I don’t have all the answers. Our job is already hard enough and I am certainly not qualified to dole out any advice. All I know is that right now, at this moment, we have a decision to make. The future lies with our children – what and how we teach them shapes this nation and the world to come. We can turn a blind eye to the hatred our President wields in order to enflame a culture of fear, or we can stand up against it, rise up out of our complacency and demonstrate with our words and our actions that in this country, our values are based on liberty, justice, and tolerance, so enshrined in the United States Constitution. It is up to us to show our children what this means.
When I was in elementary school, there was a print of Norman Rockwell’s iconic Golden Rule that hung in a hallway. Every time I passed it I wondered why the faces were so serious, for the words at the bottom of the painting were simple enough. I find that the older I get, the more I use them and the more I feel their weight. Simple words, yes, but hard to live by: “DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU.”
What would our country look like if our President remembered the Golden Rule? Or our politicians? What would it look like if we remembered to live by it?
Yes, it has been a challenging year, but I believe there is room for hope. We Americans are optimists at heart and we all want something better, for us and our children. We just have to realize that it is within our power to make the changes we want to see. After all, our children are watching.