We take the kids to vote with us, they know how a bill becomes a law, that we elect our leaders at the city, state, and national level. I'm a member of a local advisory committee that helps decide about stop signs, crosswalks, parking rules. So my kids get a fairly healthy dose of civics already. They know history: Abraham Lincoln set the slaves free and we fought a war over it, the current President is Barack Obama and is from our state and the first with darker skin, and we fought the British for the right to not have a king. Not bad for a 4 and 5 year old.
As I've discussed previously, we let our kids watch the news. In fact, they're surrounded by it. NPR is on in the morning when we wake up and Newshour is on in the evening when their cartoons are over. Other than a couple days ago when a lengthier conversation about abortion was about to begin (grownups arguing over whether a sperm and egg inside a mother has rights required too much backstory), I usually don't turn the channel just because violence or something serious comes on. They know that there are "bad guys" in the world trying to blow things up, shoot people, and otherwise cause mayhem for various causes. It's usually far away--sometimes it isn't. They know from their own experience with our own neighborhood that people have different skin color, religion, etc.. Sometimes they have questions. Sometimes not.
But one thing we've been discussing a lot lately is the upcoming election. They're excited to go pick the next President and hoping "our" candidate wins. We've talked about the likelihood it will be the first woman. And boy do they have questions about Donald Trump! It's easy for kids to turn politics into an extension of sports or war...heck, it's easy for adults to turn politics into an extension of sports or war. They cheer and boo and talk "bad guys" as villains and I'm not necessarily comfortable with that. It's especially difficult this go-round because grown adults are very much talking about Trump in the same terms. He's so over-the-top, so outrageous, that we can easily turn him (and his supporters) into a caricature to mock and disapprove.
The struggle we seem to be having as a country is how to square the fact that Trump has reached a level he should not have attained with both his ugly attitudes and that he was chosen by a large (though not majority and very niche) group of fellow Americans. It's not enough to simply call him a "bad man" and leave it at that. So far, I've gotten by with discussing with the kids that he says things very offensive to many people about race, religion, people who are different, he's rude, etc.. The kids know about Martin Luther King, Jr and bias against skin color so they can understand civil rights and racism. The bigger issue, however, is talking to kids about the "why."
In some ways, it's more disquieting than gun violence or poverty or other systemic issues that parents can generalize as exceptional. It's easier to talk about death and disease than the fact that some otherwise good people think a man who would say these awful things should possibly lead the government. Deep down inside, I understand about Trump's demographics. I know the economics and the education (or lack thereof) at play. I have a fairly advanced understanding of the Electoral College and polling and can be reassuring that it's very unlikely this man who says the awful things can win.
Fast forward to another news cycle and two pundits talking about another week of "dumb things Donald Trump said." His head appears in the corner of the tv as the moderator reads the headline for reaction. The kids, in unison, say, "Donald Trump? We don't like him!" then my daughter gives a raspberry and my son makes a sound like he's passing gas. That, perhaps, is the best we can do as adults, too. Beyond the deeper discussion of why horribly racist comments should be absolutely disqualifying for holding the office of President, the best we can do is answer his bright orange hair with a hardy, "jerkface!" and move along. Nothing to see here. Hopefully.