“Do as I say, not as I do.” My mother repeated this phrase on a multitude of occasions throughout my youth, especially as I grew into a young adult. On the surface, this is an obviously hypocritical statement, but my mom used it to express humility. “I’m not perfect, but know right from wrong and I want you to do your best to do what’s right.” Now that I’m a parent, I constantly examine whether my actions align with the values I am teaching my children.
The vast majority of parents work to do our best with what we have: knowledge, experience, resources, limitations. I am constantly questioning my choices and will admit that has sometimes translated to questioning others’, which is not always helpful. The longer I trudge the trek of raising children, the more I understand how easily we can trip and fall flat on our faces.
Whatever differences we have in our parenting choices, there are some basics upon which we all can agree: Parenting 101. We have the responsibility to feed, clothe, and house our children. Just as important, we must teach our children to be good people and make good choices. While, yes, our concept of what this means varies, most of us can agree on the following: Lying is wrong. Cheating and stealing is wrong. Bullying is wrong. Hurting others is wrong.
Good people care about others and protect others. Good people are kind and helpful. Good people make choices that are not just good for them, but for others around them.
I have lived my life believing these basics were Truth with a capital T. However, my confidence that these truths were universal has eroded. While parents may say they believe in these basic tenants of humanity, their votes sometimes send a very different message.
The 2020 election presents some voters with a moral dilemma. They are being asked to choose between political views and basic human decency.
While most Americans recognized that Donald Trump was not a good role model for children in 2016, some still chose to vote for him, hoping he would grow into the job and become “more presidential.” The last four years have shown us that is not possible. In fact, this president has doubled down on all of his most unsavory qualities, causing deep division and despair in our country.
Our children have watched as the leader of our country has exhibited and embodied the opposite of what we teach them.
The President has lied 20,000 times and counting, pathologically, and unapologetically. His lies have ranged from petty to deadly. From crowd size boasts to lying to the American people about a global pandemic, resulting in the deaths of thousands, the truth is relative to what benefits him most.
The President cheats and steals: He has been credibly accused of tax evasion, funneling government money into his businesses, and breaking laws of ethics during his time in office. Let us not forget that he cheated on ALL THREE of his wives.
The President is incapable of empathy and selfish: His family separation policy continues to wreak havoc on immigrant and refugee families. He couldn’t muster a kind word for a dead Civil Rights icon without making it about himself. He is throwing our elections into chaos to help his chances of reelection, disregarding the anxiety he is causing American voters. The President’s recent Covid-19 diagnosis and the outbreak associated with it clearly shows his narcissism and reckless disregard for the health and safety of others.
Most importantly and most egregiously, the President uses bigotry, racism and xenophobia to advance his political agenda. I do not use these terms lightly, but based upon an avalanche of evidence, this is a logical conclusion.
The President’s political campaign was launched by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. I naively believed that would be the end of his political support, but it wasn’t.
His four year term has been full of bigoted comments, actions, and incitement of racial violence. The record is clear and there is no denying it. If there was ever any doubt, the President of the United States confirmed his reliance on bigotry by refusing to denounce white supremacy and telling a far-right extremist group, “Stand back and stand by” in front of an audience of 73 million Americans.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
We are seeing the negative impacts of this message in children across the country, who are bullying their peers and acting out using the President’s words and messaging. I have seen it up close. My son and family have been badgered and belittled by both macro and micro aggressions. Classmates called Mateo a Mexican disease, children at a pool party intimidated with shouts of, “White Power,” a baseball teammate warned of dangerous Mexicans, and his soccer teammates chanted “Build a Wall” at practice. Catholic school students taunted my mother-in-law, asking her if she carries her papers now that Trump is president. These children have received the message loud and clear.
Children across this nation don’t hear adults’ rationalizations and political explanations. They see adults around them awarding the highest office in the country to a man who has challenged their humanity and that of those around them. My son hears that he is a disease. My daughter hears that it’s ok for men to assault her and brag about it. The kids I coach hear that they are thugs whose ancestors come from “shithole countries.” Children of color are scared and feel unsafe because they see adults who are supposed to protect them ignoring clear threats to their well-being.
All of our children hear the hypocrisy of adults around them: Do as I say, not as I vote.
So now here we are in 2020, at a crossroads in our long, painful, and violent journey toward a more perfect union. Here we are as Americans and parents, thinking about the future of our country and how the choices we make will affect our children. Here we are with a choice to make about the message we want to send to our children. For me, the choice cannot be more clear.
As Michelle Obama said in her plea to voters, “I want everyone who is still undecided to think about all those folks like me and my ancestors,” she said. “The millions of folks who look like me and fought and died and toiled as slaves and soldiers and laborers to help build this country. Racism, fear, division, these are powerful weapons. And they can destroy this nation if we don’t deal with them head-on.”
Joe Biden is not a perfect candidate. He is not a perfect person. He has made mistakes- Just like the rest of us. What Joe Biden is, though, is honest, empathetic, kind, and competent. He admits to making mistakes and promises to do better. At his core is a person who is trying to do what’s right and open to learning and growing. He is the antithesis of our current president.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches must send a clear and unequivocal message. We cannot hide from the moment and the truth. We cannot rationalize our way out or perform mental gymnastics to make excuses for what we tell our children are inexcusable actions. We must stand up and be counted, sending a message that despite our political differences, we still must abide by a clear set of Truths.
Lying is wrong.
Cheating and stealing is wrong.
Bullying is wrong.
Racism and bigotry are wrong.
Hurting Others is Wrong.
Our voices and our votes must be loud and clear. Voting out the President won’t end racism, but allowing him to stay will only perpetuate and deepen the division and pain. Allowing him to stay, actively voting for him to continue his destructive behavior sends a message not just to our own children, but to all of the people who are in pain as a result of his cruelty. It has been the mantra of Trump’s most fervent supporters:
“ Fuck your feelings. My political views are more important than your humanity.”
Rewarding the bad behavior of a person who embodies all that we tell our children not to be renders our words are meaningless.
Now is the time to speak and act unequivocally: Kindness is right. Honesty is valuable. Empathy is good. Taking care of each other, all of us, is the only way forward. We can tell our children this all we want, but if our votes tell a different story, what does that make us? More importantly, what will we teach our children?
Disclaimer: My opinions and ideas expressed do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of my employers.