This is something that doesn’t get enough play in every debate related to Trump.
Even more than emboldening white supremacists, Trump’s rise in popularity has done something far worse to the collective ethical mindset of an entire generation. As the litany of stories where kids are dealing with overt racism throughout the country shows, youths are receiving signals that mistreating others based on race, religion, or some other ideology is okay in our society.
This could be the greatest tragedy of Trump’s “legacy” no matter what happens in the fall.
Let me just relate a quick story that popped into my head as I was reading this.
When I was a kid, I remember an incident that occurred while I was sitting watching my father and a couple (maybe just one) of his drinking buddies play cards. At some point, my dad’s friend made a comment that was racist. I don’t remember if it was the use of the n-word or some other statement, but I do remember my dad had a reaction that made an enormous impact on me.
My father’s demeanor changed quite rapidly and he told his friend, in a forceful manner, not to talk like that in front of children. It wasn’t very obvious to the friend, but for a split second, it was obvious to me, My father was pissed.
I don’t think I had ever witnessed an adult get angry at another adult in a manner like that before, and I also don’t know if I had ever seen my father more emphatic about the wrongness of the comment, as he was during the brief argument that occurred between the two men after my father had told his friend to stop using the words he was using.
They eventually moved on, like most adults do after arguments, and went back to playing cards. When the friend got up to go to the bathroom, my father motioned for me and pulled his face up close to mine. I could see the anger in his eyes as they drew my full attention.
“Don’t YOU ever use the word that [what’shisname] just said,” he said in his teeth-clenched, ‘I’m-quietly-hiding-the-furious-anger-I-feel-right-now” way of speaking he often used when me or one of my sisters did something really stupid or embarrassing. “That is an awful word, used to make people feel bad, it is not okay for anyone to say, ever, you hear me, EVER!” he added, in what can best be described as a whisper yell, his face now a bright red hue, a real signifier of his emotions.
He pulled away, and his friend came back to the card table. At that point, everything had gone back to normal. My dad’s friend had no clue of the volcano of anger that had just arisen as he left the room. The only other hint that I had that what had just occurred actually was real was the intense side-eye glance from my father a few minutes later that was his way of reiterating the point he had made.
So why do I share this?
I don’t know what my father thinks about racism now. He’s older and has a wide range of friends representing every race, almost every religion, and sexual orientation. Some of his friends are people that I can best classify as small business owners who have achieved career success yet nonetheless have some notion — that are most often displayed through retweets, shares, and memes on social media — that life in America right now is shitty for everyone and that we are in the worst of times. I don’t know how my dad feels now personally, he definitely has friends who are very loudly pro-Trump, he may even support some of Trump’s ideas, I have no clue.
What I do know is that when I was most impressionable, when I couldn’t really think for myself yet, when my ethical and moral compass was not yet attuned, he emphatically wanted to make sure that I didn’t grow up with some of the same biases and same hatreds for those of different backgrounds, and the same ugliness that must have been imparted on his generation from the previous or experienced through the 1970’s and 1960's.
His point was clear, and I held on to the lesson since. Once or twice it has gotten me in trouble when I tried to pass it on to adult friends of my own; I’ve definitely gotten into a fight or two when I’ve told someone they shouldn’t use the n-word, etc.
The point? It is clear to see on Facebook, through media images of smiling bros wearing “Make America Great Again” hats at Trump rallies, and in the anecdotes from this story: We are doing a severe disservice to youths in America today by not only failing to loudly (or quietly) point out how wrong the language of hate and human inequality (that has bubbled out of the Trump campaign cauldron) is, but, worse, we are failing the next generations by the most American of standards: that they should be better than us.
We are doing this in social media postings that we don’t realize the lasting and public impact of (which are or will be visible at some point to our children) and by not more harshly criticizing the ugliness of others.
An unfortunate reality I’ve accepted is that I will never win an argument with someone on social media about a politically charged perspective — I’ve tried, changing adults’ minds is impossible. I would only ask those praising a stance that is overtly prejudiced towards Muslims or Mexicans to think about the impact and the ideals that you are passing on.
What I can do and need to do is to make sure my kids get the same lesson my father gave me.
And just as emphatically.
I just wish we as a generation had moved on from these secret ethics lessons.