This was written two years ago, but still applies. Only now we can add Brexit into the mix as something scary that makes no sense to anyone, especially children.
“Donald Trump scares me,” said Boy Three, tousled from his bed and clutching a toy penguin.
The statement was more alarming than the news that something as preposterous as Trump becoming the president of the United States had happened.
Boy Three is seven. If he’s going to be scared of anything, it should be bogie men, zombies and, possibly big bad wolves. He shouldn’t be frightened by flesh-and-blood men voted into a democracy in the ‘civilised’ world.
I had no idea about politics when I was his age. The oil lamps and candles we needed when the three-day week took hold were just a mildly diverting fact of my life. I was at least two years older than Boy Three when my father, possibly somewhat irritably, asked if I even knew who the Prime Minister was. Jim Callaghan, I learned.
My seven-year-old self considered digital watches to be the most exciting gadgets and was happy to pick up a book when kids’ telly went off at tea time. Boy Three watches YouTube (Dan TDM – urgh), knows what Twitter is and figured out what my iPad pin code is in minutes. Everything has changed. He’s also got older brothers who talk about what’s happening in the world… and journalist parents.
In theory, children who watch the news and discuss matters of the world is a good thing. Or at least I thought so. Now, though, I’m having to explain how one man is being treated as if he was a terrifying joke, a dangerous fool, cartoonish and swaggering.
These things may be true and, in the words of Armando Iannucci: “You confuse us. We want to laugh at your stumbles, but are petrified by what those stumbles may lead to.”
But, while there is potential for monstrous things to happen, Donald Trump is not a monster. He’s just a man. A complicated and alarming man whose many views are entirely at odds with mine, but a man nonetheless.
He considers that women (especially ugly ones), Mexicans, Muslims, sick people and numerous other groups of people to be somehow less. He depersonalises them, simplifying and demonising. But isn’t that exactly what we’re doing if we laugh at the hair (combed over a vulnerability, surely?), ridicule the ignorance, and fear the bluster and cover-up?
I want to explain to my son how this man got into office, how sometimes – because we live in democracies – we don’t get the leaders we want, how we can hate someone’s views without hating them. And my job will be so much easier if we don’t let ‘Trump’ be shorthand for all that’s wrong-headed, bad or even evil.