Connie Schultz: Guiding children in the age of Trump

Connie Schultz

“You could be president some day.”

As recently as last year, this is what we told America’s children. We said this to encourage them to banish those inner voices of doubt and imagine themselves at their fullest potential.

See yourself in our first black president, and feel the obstacles melt away. Look at that woman nominated to be president, and hear those glass ceilings shatter.

President of the United States.

Commander in chief.

Leader of the free world.

My Lord. Look at what’s happened to us.

This may seem like an inconsequential conversation, maybe even a frivolous one, considering the mess we’re in. With so much at stake right now, what does it matter what the children of this country are thinking?

If we mean it when we say America’s children are America’s future, it matters more than we might want to admit at the moment. Great. Another thing to worry about.

We need look no further than Donald Trump’s eldest son to comprehend the potential risk of his father’s legacy on our children. In an increasingly up-close and unsettling way, we’re watching the results of his parenting through Donald Trump Jr., one astonishing lie at time.

Last July, Trump Jr. scoffed when CNN asked if Russia was trying to help his father’s campaign. It’s “lie after lie,” he said.

This past March, he told The New York Times that, sure, he met with people who were Russian, but none of the meetings was planned. “And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form,” he added.

On Saturday, after journalists reported that he had, indeed, met with a Russian lawyer, Trump Jr. claimed it was about a suspended adoption program. “Not a campaign issue,” he claimed.

On Sunday, after three White House advisers told The New York Times that Trump Jr. met with the Russian lawyer to talk about opposition research on Hillary Clinton, he claimed she had no real information and used it as ruse to talk to him about adoption.

On Monday, he told Fox’s Sean Hannity that, well, yeah, he did meet with her about “opposition research” on Hillary Clinton. No biggie — and he never peeped a word of it to his father, he insisted.

Then Tuesday, kaboom: After Trump Jr. found out the Times had emails proving he had welcomed the Russian lawyer’s opposition research, he released the email exchange in which he said, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

This is not the behavior of an ethical human being, but it’s not surprising when we consider the looming role model in Trump Jr.’s life. “Like father, like son” usually comes off as trite, but its essential meaning sums up well the father-son relationship playing out on the international stage.

How we talk with one another about all this is yet another layer of what is happening in this country. Many Americans are concerned and worried, often seized by a constant state of anxiety, and even rage. All of this is understandable, but none of it sets a good example for the children in our lives.

I can’t help thinking about this, and not just because I have to mind my words around my grandchildren. I am that person who watches people everywhere I go. Too often, lately, I notice looks of confusion and fear on the faces of children watching Trump scream on television and listening to the adult anger swirling around them.

It is comforting, perhaps, to imagine Donald Trump becoming a cautionary tale — but what do we do with him in the meantime? We tell our children not to lie or bully, even as the president’s lying and bullying so often triggers breaking news. We want our children to aspire to greatness, but how do we define that when the most powerful man in the world hates Muslims and mocks women, and whose default response is to be unhinged?

Confession: I got the first line of this column by eavesdropping on a mother and her young son last month in Cleveland’s airport. Her eyes followed his to a TV screen overhead broadcasting a recent clip of Trump venting to an Iowa crowd.

“They have phony witch hunts going against me,” Trump bellowed. “All we do is win, win, win…”

The mother looked down at her son. “You can be president,” she said, pointing to the screen. “But don’t ever be him.”

The conversation starts there, I guess.