By Jim Steyer, Founder & CEO, Common Sense
In the wake of the horrific events in Charlottesville, parents around the country were left once again wondering how to speak to our kids about the news. We have been challenged by this numerous times in recent months, complicated by a president who often acts like a bully, and who sometimes encourages hate in others to serve his own political ends.
As happens with a bully, and anyone who is subject to chronic bullying, many of us have grown accustomed to this behavior coming from the White House. We have recalibrated to an unfortunate new normal, where common decency is thrown out the window, and even derided as a sign of weakness or some kind of personal failing.
If there is any silver lining to the events in Charlottesville, perhaps it will be a wake up call to those who have enabled this president, or at least stood silent as he continues his destructive behavior. After Charlottesville, we did see some thoughtful leaders come forward. Both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush condemned the attack, saying, “We must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms.” The National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called it an act of terrorism, and condemned “hatred that is rooted in ignorance, ignorance of what America stands for, what America is.” And leading business executives disbanded their councils.
Sadly, in the Oval Office, this type of thoughtful leadership was sorely lacking. And a teachable moment for our next generation was squandered.
While some Republicans and Democrats spoke out, the president demurred, casting blame on "many sides." That statement left parents in the awkward position of explaining to kids what should be obvious to the leader of the free world: the importance of tolerance and the absolute rejection of Neo-Nazism and white supremacist views.
It is important to continue to clearly call out behavior that is so clearly wrong – even if it is reinforced or encouraged by the President of the United States. We must continue to speak out, not just in public, but in our own homes to ensure that the next generation of Americans does not lose common civility as well as the most basic notions of right and wrong.
This non-partisan concept of fundamental decency appears to have been lost with this president, making it that much more important for parents, teachers and others to keep it alive. Pushing these topics to the backburner merely enables those who are actively working to undermine long-held American values, and who threaten to tear our country apart.
In this uniquely charged political climate, it is also easy to see every disagreement as a moral divide…or simply as partisan politics. As we continue to speak out against racism and hatred, we must also let our children know that it is okay to have logical disagreements with parents, teachers or friends, and that people who disagree can still do so in a way that does not demean or degrade their basic humanity.
As President Obama quoted former South African president Nelson Mandela, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love … For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
That lesson can be easily lost in today’s headlines. But the future of our children, our communities and our country hinges on our collective ability to persevere and to remain true to those fundamental human connections and notions of decency, amid a climate of growing division and hatred.
Parents today already face tremendous challenges with raising children in our 24/7 technology and media-fueled environment where it can be so difficult to protect them from inappropriate content. With a president who refuses to outright condemn hatred and intolerance, we as a society need to come together – as parents, community leaders, and educators – to ensure that our next generation understands that his comments are not what this country stands for. This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue. And our children are our most important audience.