The first few weeks of the Trump administration showed that any egregious action by our new President will be met with protest and resistance. For people like me, that is one of the few sources of good news since January 20. However, we need to hold Trump to account not just for his policies, appointments, executive actions and legislative proposals, but also for the way he comports himself. He’s not just the country’s CEO, he’s also Role Model-in-Chief.
Recently, The New Yorker ran a cartoon depicting a frustrated father kneeling beside a kicking, screaming child in the strong grip of a temper tantrum. Dad tells Mom, "I don't know where he got the idea that screaming 'fake news' over and over would get him out of doing his homework."
The cartoonist understood that people in the public eye are, for better and for worse, modeling behavior for kids. Some years ago, Charles Barkley, the NBA star and broadcasting icon, was criticized for setting a bad example. "I'm not paid to be a role model," he asserted. The general response was: "Sorry Charles, but, like it or not, you are a role model." Like it or not, Donald Trump is too. And, to the extent that nations have souls, his behavior has already damaged the soul of America. Indignation is the appropriate response, and it needs to be relentless.
Kids emulate public figures consciously, as when they imitate a baseball player's batting stance or dress like a singer they idolize, and also unconsciously, just as they pick up gestures, speech patterns, attitudes and traits from parents and other adults. Now parents have to explain why the rude, belligerent, fib-telling dude on TV was awarded the top job in the land for doing things they’d get punished for.
Teenagers are creative geniuses when it comes to inventing derogatory nicknames, cruel insults and demeaning taunts. How do you tamp down that behavior when Trump's victory was paved with "Little Marco," "Low-Energy Jeb," "Crooked Hillary," and "Pocahontas," and he’s already added “so-called judge” and “dishonest media”? What did "Lock her up!" say to future bullies? How many wannabe tough guys saw candidate Trump implore his followers to punch protesters in the face and offer to pay their legal expenses? What do the almost-daily attacks from the Tweeter-in-Chief tell young trolls about how to treat those who irritate them or hurt their feelings? How do you teach forgiveness when the guy in the Oval Office models retaliation and brags about wreaking vengeance upon his antagonists? How do you get a kid to show you her browser history when the President won’t reveal his tax returns? What do religious parents say about a President whose favorite Bible verse is "An eye for an eye," not the Golden Rule or a passage from Beatitudes?
How are grownups supposed get kids to respect honesty when the nation's CEO treats facts as an inconvenience? Climate change is a Chinese hoax. He saw—not just heard rumors of, but saw—thousands of Muslims celebrating 9/11. Three to five million people voted illegally, and all of them voted for Hillary. Compared to whoppers like those, saying you didn't eat those cookies or cheat on that exam is small potatoes. We've come a long way from "I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down that cherry tree." I wouldn’t be shocked if naughty kids have already told parents or teachers to look at what's in their hearts, not what comes out of their mouths, as Kellyanne Conway admonished a reporter. Or if adolescents have defended their lies by calling them "alternative facts."
Dare I mention the horny young men who are now recalculating the risks and rewards of pussy grabbing? “Let’s see, am I a big enough star to at least grab a boob?”
This is not about red and blue. Conservatives, pay attention! You're supposed to care about decency, morality and traditional values. Maybe you can't wait for the swamp to drain, but meanwhile you have to mutter convoluted answers when your kids ask about some odious thing the President said or did. Wait till they claim a test was rigged and snarl when you demand proof, or accuse a teacher who gives them a bad grade of being biased because of her ancestry, or report that more people came to their soccer game than the Superbowl.
In November, we told the world that in America you can grab and grope, insult and humiliate, bully and brag, lie and then lie about lying, and still make it to the top of the top of the topmost heap. If that's not what you want the country to stand for, whatever your political leanings, please tell our new president that the children are watching. Demand that he take his status as a role model at least as seriously as athletes and entertainers do. Write the White House and insist that the occupant mind his manners. Hold him accountable, and if he persists on behaving like a petulant teenager, tell him, "You're grounded, Mister."