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The United States of Malfunction

Most of the parenting topics being explored on President-elect Trump have been about how we explain his poor character and the horrible things our kids are asking us about racism and worry. Are my Mexican and Muslim friends safe? Are my LGBT friends safe? Why do people say and do bad things to women and African-Americans? It's a laundry list of, essentially, all the xenophobic things wrong with America from a social standpoint. And my kids don't even know about the KKK and Nazis and the other dark forces who feel emboldened by all this. The authoritarians and fascists who want America to be more powerful. The ugly list of personalities Trump is floating for high office who have ideas like wanting to get rid of the United Nations. If your kid is worried on that level, parents, I feel you. Plenty of other writers out there have you covered, however, about what to say to children there. Reassure them. Hug them. Tell them we still have neighbors who are good people who still affirm our values. 

For me it hit home the day after the election when my 6 year old son told me he's certain there will be bad laws. It ended up being a good conversation about how we're mostly protected from the most egregious laws and how even President Hillary could have done some things he really didn't like. But it was tough from a civics point of view. Last spring, we'd taken our kids on a mini-vacation to the Abraham Lincoln sites in Springfield, IL and they've expressed interest in learning about history and social studies as it relates to the United States politically. They understand the fundamentals that people have long treated people unfairly and the United States is (was?) in a special position to correct that mistreatment through our guiding principles. 

I'm young enough that I didn't experience the 1960's. So I was born after the great upheaval of that era. I have often wondered lately if this is what it felt like. Most of us younger than 40 probably have a fairly rosy view of American history. The most progressive among us have a definitely darker acknowledgement that we've only occasionally lived up to our lofty principles. Slavery, Jim Crow, back alley abortions, murdering gays, Vietnam, throwing Japanese people into camps during WWII. But we are the same nation who defeated Hitler, wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, founded democracy, took in immigrants from around the world, invented the airplane, etc..

It's going to be hard to take our kids to Washington DC to visit a Trump White House though. It's going to be harder to talk to our kids about being a government of The People when a minority of voters were able to have their votes count more than the majority. It's a dark day when you want to tell your kids that the long, winding story of America is one of justice and equality and progress towards a greater society. But you can't because your country is malfunctioning. 

For many of us, I think we've always known in our hearts that the American project is a hope and a prayer. For all the worship of the Founding Fathers, our history has mostly been one of disagreement, blind luck, and a few specks of amazing triumph in the midst of a lot of grossly unfair systemic corruption. I'm not going to go into the laundry list of how we got here, but it should be enough to remember that at one point in 1856 a man was beaten on the floor of the Senate by a member of the House of Representatives over abolition. We're not there yet. But things are looking so hardened and fractured that I'm not sure there are political solutions to our culture divide. 

We are a liberal nation ruled by conservatives. And despite our resounding vote to continue the policies of a popular, progressive President we are about to have sea change in another direction. I'm not sure how the nation will react. I'm not sure how I will react. I'm not sure what kind of future we have. I'd like to believe we'll somehow get the opportunity to turn this great nation around and move forward again. At the moment, however, we're in for a long backwards slide. My advice to my children--with honesty and hope--is that grownups will behave responsibly and respectfully towards each other in solving our differences. 

Nothing in me thinks that is very likely.