A Script for Explaining U.S. Politics to a Six Year-Old

My daughter recently asked me why I don’t like Donald Trump.

Because a proper answer would involve a thorough explanation of narcissism, which (in the case of our president) demands a follow-up course in entitlement and misogyny, which would ultimately take us down the bloodstained rabbit hole of white privilege, I realized I was in a pickle.

My daughter is six. She is an excellent communicator, which often tricks me into thinking she can handle complex concepts, but the reality is that she just doesn’t understand most nuances yet.

One of her favorite pastimes is to whisper to me, hand alongside her mouth, “opposites!” then say something loudly like, “Mama, you’re the worst dad ever” or, “Charles” (our dog) “is a really quiet girl cat, isn’t he?”

Good and bad, right and wrong, happy and sad. Like many kids and too many adults, she sees the world in strict polarities. And there’s a case for it. It’s tidy and sometimes reassuring to believe in absolute right and wrong. It’s no coincidence religion is still so immensely popular.

But I don’t believe in polarities. At least not like that. I don’t want to tell my daughter I think our president is a terrible human being. I want to present her the facts and let her decide for herself. So here’s, essentially, what I told her about our president:

  • He is an old, white man with a lot of money.
  • He generally doesn’t like people who aren’t old, white men with a lot of money.
  • I don’t like him because he doesn’t seem to care about anyone but himself.

I also told her that her stepdad and I identify with Democrats more than Republicans.

Little did I know I opened the floodgate. “What’s a democrat? What’s a republican? What’s an Obama? Why don’t you like the president?”

How do you explain any of this to a six year-old?

So, I did what any discerning parent would do: I Googled that shit.

We looked for kids’ videos to explain the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

There wasn’t much, but we did find one that touched on the major differences. Find a summary below, and feel free to use it with your kids.

Note that I did my best to present these differences as objectively as possible, so if you see nuances in the language that skew Democratic, please offer your suggestions for changes in the comments.

How to Explain Politics to a Six Year-Old

  • Big/Small Government: “Democrats want our government to make more rules that the whole country has to follow. Republicans want the government to not make as many rules.”
  • Economic (Wages): “Democrats want to make sure that companies pay their workers enough money to survive. Republicans want the market to determine how much people get paid — meaning some people may work jobs that don’t pay them enough to survive.”
  • Economic (Taxes): “Democrats want rich people to give more money to the government than poor people, since they have more money. Republicans think everyone should give the government the same percentage of their money.”
  • Military: “Democrats want the government to spend less money on the military, while Republicans want to spend more on the military.”
  • Gay Marriage: “Democrats want anyone to be able to marry anyone — men with other men, women with other women. Republicans think only men and women should be allowed to marry.”
  • Immigration: “Democrats want anyone to be able to move into our country. Republicans think we should only let certain kinds of people in.”
  • Healthcare: “Democrats think everyone should be able to go to the doctor, even if they don’t have enough money for it. Republicans think people should have to pay to go to the doctor, even if it’s very expensive.”
  • Gun control: “Democrats think there should be a lot of rules about who can get guns, and what kind of guns people can have. Republicans think most people should be able to have guns if they want them.”

Of course, the danger in sharing the differences in Republican and Democratic ideologies with her was the risk of — you guessed it — deepening that wedge of polarity in her still-forming brain.

But I was pleasantly surprised. She wanted to learn about all of the parties, primarily because Google revealed that each had its own symbol, many of which were animals, and what first-grader doesn’t lose their f*cking mind over animals?

To learn more about all of the parties, then, we started with this 2017 Gallup poll, which revealed that Independents make up the biggest percentage of voters (39%) followed by Democrats (30%) and then Republicans (28%).

We looked at the various political party symbols, which prompted Googling the Green, Modern Whig, Libertarian, Constitution, and the Marijuana party (I didn’t know this was a party, but it sounds like a party. Also, I didn’t Google this one with my daughter because there are some nuances that she truly isn’t ready for).

All in all, it was a success. We bonded. She got to stretch her critical-thinking muscles.

But most interesting of all was the examination of my own positions in the process. I have never been a serious follower of politics. I felt like a huge imposter in my Global Studies and political science classes in college. History was my least-favorite subject in high school. As an adult, my interests and media consumption are typically in the domains of business, entrepreneurship, women’s issues, and parenting.

I had identified loosely as a democrat for most of my adult life, since the Dems’ stance on social issues resonates most with me. And while I would favor more Democratic (canine, feline, Martian, really anything else) representation in our current administration, there are a few Republican concepts that appeal to me, too.

I reminded my daughter that she should think these things through as she grows up, and if she does want to affiliate with a party, she should do so when she’s a teenager. In the meantime, I would always be there to learn with her.

“I’m probably more of a Democrat, still, than anything else,” I told her.

And she must have been eager to demonstrate her studiousness, because after a few moments of thought, she concluded, “I think I’m more of a Modern Whig.”