Parenting in a New Day of Presidential Politics
In 1988, I turned twelve. It was an exciting time to watch democracy in action, and it opened up a new world for me. That was the year George Herbert Walker Bush won the road to the White House and became the 41st President of the United States.
A daughter of the Reagan era, I had admired my president for eight years as most children do. But I couldn’t tell you why. I can read the history books now and tell you what was great about Ronald Reagan, but memory doesn’t allow me to actually miss him. I can only remember knowing three things for certain: he loved jellybeans, my grandfather liked him, and his wife wanted me to say no to drugs. At that age, it was really all I needed to know.
But by 1988 things were different. For the first time, I was old enough to understand what I was seeing and to select a candidate that I liked. I participated in a mock debate in my class, and I tried to actually comprehend the issues and the process. I learned about the differences between the two major parties. I learned that the primary and general elections are not the same thing. I learned that the Electoral College is not, in fact, an actual college.
Sure, there were some issues that popped up, introducing names like Willie Horton to frighten me about prison furloughs. And there were the usual zingers like Lloyd Bentsen declaring of Dan Quayle, “You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy.” But there was a certain decorum to the process that made it easy for a young armchair political strategist to follow. I was enthralled. Six years later I registered to vote on my birthday, declared my college major in Politics and never stopped taking it all in.
In 2016, there is again a twelve-year-old in my house. It’s another year to see democracy in action. But as I watch through her eyes, very little looks familiar to me. And our conversations have taken a different shape.
Yes, we talk about the differences between the two major parties. About the difference between voting in March and voting in November. And about the math of the Electoral College.
But we are also talking about what socialism is and how it could exist in America. We are talking about words that aren’t appropriate to say. We are talking about how we shouldn't interact with people the way we see others doing on the television screen during multiple debates. I am telling her what the Ku Klux Klan is and why we should all disavow it. And I find myself discouraged. This election was not the way I wanted to teach her about America.
How does a parent hold up the most powerful office in the land as something to respect, when we wouldn’t let our own children act like those who want to hold it?
This election has changed how we talk about the world in our house. And it has elevated how we talk about the next world.
I'm learning that every teachable moment is a gift, if we can just open our eyes to see the light. As much as I want to shield them from the very worst, I have decided to tell the truth. We talk about the good things and the bad things. We talk about what we can learn. We talk about being good citizens no matter what the context, and no matter what rights we may have to lay down. And we talk about a perfect city that I assure them is completely real.
In a different time, when every day felt like “morning in America,” it could be difficult to long for something else. And when it all seemed fixable, it was easy to think that we didn't need rescuing.
But today I am pointing my children to something better, because it has become appallingly clear how much we need it. I take them with me to the polls to show them that part of participating in this world means using my voice. But I want them to know that when I cast my vote in that booth, I’m casting my cares somewhere else.
This election in some ways is a gift. We don’t have to remind ourselves to put our hope in something outside of this world. We now find ourselves looking for hope. And it turns out that the City on the Hill is a real place that John actually saw, and I believe every word he wrote down.
On the one hand, I’m sad that my twelve-year-old daughter can’t feel the rush that I did. But I’m happy that I get to tell her an even better story.
No matter what happens on November 8, God’s mercies will be new on November 9. That’s what I want her to know. And that’s a future I want her to long for—one where a man who is perfect has already made the whole world great again.