This post has been a week in coming. It’s taken so long because every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it got worse. And just as I had something composed in my head, a new atrocity rose up to overshadow the previous one.
A week ago, my grandson spent the night with me. He’s a smart, precocious rising fifth-grader who enjoys babies and small children, Jeopardy, CNN, most of the shows on HGTV, and is a walking encyclopedia of baseball statistics. He reads the Farmers’ Almanac, trivia (or did-you-know) books with the same intensity I used to read Nancy Drew. He’s also a lot of fun to spend time with, and we talk about almost everything.
Last week we discussed Trump’s words and actions relative to North Korea, and any fears he might have or what he thought might happen. I told him about growing up in during the Cold War, and living just a mile from the base headquarters of the Strategic Air Command in Tampa. I explained how scary that could feel, and how we had “bomb drills” in the same way he has fire drills or lock-down drills. Although we obviously came to no resolution, I tried to assure him that it was unlikely we would actually have war, since, pragmatically, our threat to North Korea was much greater in terms of lives and damage than their threat to us. We agreed that war is bad, that any loss of life would be horrible, and I think it helped him to talk about it.
That conversation was on Friday, and I thought it was probably the most serious conversation we would have for a while. Then came Saturday in Charlottesville.
This grandson wrote a paper on WWII last year for class, so he has some knowledge of who Hitler was and about the Nazis. And, like the rest of us, he likely thought it was an evil that had been put to rest. Oh, he knows about racism and discrimination. He has a virtual rainbow of friends, both at school and in his neighborhood. He has a gay uncle and great-uncle, and a couple of gay cousins, knows people who are in same-sex marriages and committed relationships, and his parents don’t put any questions – from him or his sister – off-bounds. So he’s aware, but it’s not a big deal. His greatest concern following the November election was for his friends who are Mexican and those whose religion is Islam. It probably isn’t necessary to mention that he’s no fan of Donald Trump, and takes every opportunity to mention it!
So, how do we talk about Trump’s recent remarks about the events in Charlottesville? How do I explain that there are people who would hate him because he’s one-quarter Puerto Rican? And how does that work with the fact that he’s descended on my side of the family from people who owned human beings and who fought to dissolve this union of states, so that they might continue to profit from slavery? How do I explain that the word “n***er” was used freely within my extended family when I was growing up. What will he think when he’s old enough to be interested in my grandfather’s memoirs, which are filled with epithets against people of color, Jewish people, and a host of others who weren’t White, Southern, and Episcopalian?
What do I say about the people who voted for Trump? Do I say they aren’t bad people? Or that they aren’t all racist or bigoted? Do I say that somehow they were able to ignore Trump’s words and vote for him anyway? Do I fall back on my mother’s old saw that politics makes strange bedfellows? Do I tell him that there are people who are genuinely concerned about the economy and hoped Trump would make it better, and that they were angry enough to vote for him? How, then, do I explain that a race of people who have suffered from a depressed economy for generations don’t have the same right, according to some, to be angry?
What words do I use to tell him that Donald Trump has a son-in-law and two grandchildren who are descended from Holocaust survivors, yet he defended Nazis, surely knowing, and just as surely not caring, about the pain that must cause them? My grandchildren – all of them – think of grandparents as protecters and defenders, as people who love them and would never choose to hurt them in word or deed. How can he understand that there are grandparents who put their own selfishness above the emotional well-being of their grandchildren?
How do I explain that the person who occupies the highest elected office in this land has defended and provided excuses for Nazis and white supremacists, and those who would divide us by race and religion? How can this even be a current events discussion in the 21st Century?
And how will Donald Trump explain his angry words and his support for Nazis and bigots to Arabella, Joseph, and Theodore?