What Will You Say When Your Kids Ask About Trump, and the End of America?

Trump, meantime, knows exactly what he wants your kids to think, do, know. As president – that is, as the primary role model for America's children – he is teaching your kids by his every word, grimace, dog-whistle and tweet

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Donald Trump, on board Air Force One, en route to Topeka, Kansas, October 6, 2018
Donald Trump, on board Air Force One, en route to Topeka, Kansas, October 6, 2018Credit: AFP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

You didn't want to go there. You didn't want to believe how bad this could get.

You knew Trump would split the country. But you didn't want to believe he would shatter it.

Now he has.

You knew Trump was capable of naming a justice to the Supreme Court despite the candidate having been accused of sexual assault. But you didn't want to believe that the president and his party leaders would be ecstatic now precisely because of the accusations.

You didn't want this to be the one issue that could get a NeverTrump Republican like Bret Stephens to write a New York Times column headlined "For Once I'm Grateful For Trump," in which he states the "truth" that "falsely accusing a person of sexual assault is nearly as despicable as sexual assault itself." Or to have him write, in a masterwork of lying with statistics, that "false accusations of rape, while relatively rare, are at least five times as common as false accusations of other types of crime, according to scientific literature."

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I wish I could say that this all looks better from a distance. But even thousands of miles away, the shock of the Kavanaugh process, the underhanded, putrefied, triumphalist viciousness of it all, is still wrenching, horrifying, bottomless. And, very possibly, permanent.

You knew Trump might rig and sleaze and incite his way into some kind of victory come Election Day November 6. But you didn't want to believe that all he needs is an inconclusive vote in the midterms – say, a slim Democratic edge in the House, and a 50-50 Senate split – and he could be well on his way to becoming, in effect, President For Life.

Believe it.

It's time to begin thinking about what you're going to be able to answer, when your kids, and theirs, ask where were you, what were you doing, when Donald Trump was presiding over the end of America.

Because Trump knows exactly what he wants your kids to think, do, know. As president - that is, as the primary role model for America's children – he is teaching your kids by example, by harangue, by innuendo, by his every word, grimace, dog-whistle and tweet.

At this point, in fact, he does little else.  Just this week, in what has become the accepted norm, he will hold campaign rallies in Iowa on Tuesday, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Ohio on Friday – his 24th appearance in the state - and eastern Kentucky on Saturday.

At each stop, and speaking to reporters on Air Force One in between, he has sharpened his message to the children of America. This week alone, he has taught the children of America the following:

To be manly, a boy can demonstrably lie about anything - even under oath, especially under oath. A boy can evade, bark, bellow, snivel and even, while being interviewed for a job, defensively demand to know if one of his interviewers – the daughter of a recovering alcoholic - has ever blacked out as a result of a drinking problem.

To be womanly, a girl who has survived abuse must: Put up. Shut up. Shut down. Carry her anguish to the grave.

Because if she does not, and though cognizant of the potential dangers, she comes forward – and if, with calm certainty and with painful credibility she names her assailant as that boy, the president of the United States will stop at nothing to attack her in order to defend him.

Trump made it clear that girls everywhere in America should know – and boys as well – that survivors of assault should pay a severe price for seeking justice against an assailant.

Even as he hamstrung the FBI from investigating Ford's account, even while the process was still underway, Trump mocked her testimony in a raucous Mississippi rally. His remarks, which were met with laughter and strong applause, would be rebroadcast the world over.

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Where sexual assault is concerned, Trump went on, in his bottom line to the youth of America, it's high time we recognized and comforted the real victims – the accused.

The allegations against Kavanaugh, Trump said, showed that "It's a very scary time for young men in America."

What will you tell your kids about Trump? What can you tell them now? How can you relate to the response of a president who, basking in celebration just after the confirmation vote, was asked by a woman reporter, "What is your message today to the women across this country who are feeling devastated, who are feeling like the message [is that allegations of assault are not believed] –"

"I don't think they are," Trump interrupts at this point, cutting her off while folding his arms across his chest.

"Women were outraged by what happened to Brett Kavanaugh," he continues. "Outraged."

"We have a lot of women that are extremely happy – a tremendous number," Trump goes on, "because they are thinking of their husbands and their brothers and their uncles - and others – and women are, I think, extremely happy."

And there it is.

What can you tell your kids now?

What can you tell your kids about a leader who tells reporters Saturday, pressing his attack on Ford even after the vote was in, that he is "100 percent certain" that she was mistaken?

What can you say about a leader who now wants to leverage the Kavanagh appointment into a seismic shift in its entire system of government, in the essence of the democratic process, in the legitimacy of any opposition, in the very idea of America itself?

To the screams of a crowd in Topeka, Kansas, Trump declared that now "we have been energized! We have been energized!" and that the Kavanaugh appointment was a "tremendous victory for our nation, our people, and our beloved constitution."

Then he launched a prolonged attack on the Democratic Party as a whole. "Just imagine the devastation they would cause if they ever obtained the power they so desperately crave!" Trump shouted.

"We are not going to let that happen!" he said. "We can't let that happen! You don't hand matches to an arsonist. You don't give power to an angry left-wing mob, and that's what they have become!"

Now we are getting close to Trump's true bottom line. 

If your kids lean toward him, he wants them on fire.

If they lean against him, if they lean Democratic, he wants them anxious or repelled or alienated or screenbound or jaded or drained of all faith in the possibility of positive change – any or all of these, to the point of paralysis.

What can you tell your kids? For starters, that you listened closely to and honored survivors. Survivors of abuse and assault, girls and also boys.

You can tell your kids that you refused to give up. That you marched and canvassed and voted and got others to vote.

You can tell your kids that you refused to let a government get away with ripping migrant children away from their parents, caging them, shipping them off and then rounding them up again, months later in the dead of night, still without their parents, and transporting them to a tent camp in a remote part of west Texas.

You can tell your kids that you refused to give in to an entire government, and to Fox Nation, and to Trump's back-room offensives to roll back voting rights, women's rights, worker's rights, LGBTQ rights, gun control initiatives, and environmental protections. 

You can tell your children that a nation can only come to an end, if you let it.

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