I took my oldest, 12, with me to a post-card writing event this week. Our host, an artist, graciously supplied us with handmade postcards, some with blank fronts so we could design our own images and some with a beautiful beehive pattern (as we live in the Beehive State) and the symbol of the Women’s March on Washington, and the addresses of our Representatives and Senators in Washington. We could focus on any number of the injustices that the Trump administration has forced upon the nation in its first few days in office: defunding of science, assaults on the media, fascism in the White House, climate change denialism, the highly unqualified Betsy DeVos, the placement of white supremacist Steven Bannon to the Security Council, the vicious executive order curtailing legal immigration and the placement of some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees… Oh, this list was long, and we came home with more than a dozen postcards ready to be sent.
My son asked if he could draw anything he wanted and say anything he wanted in his note to Donald Trump, and I agreed, of course, because he’s a smart kid and because I don’t think Donald Trump is going to get his feelings hurt if my child calls him a dirty name, though I wish he would.
And this is what emerged:
Above, the image my son drew on his postcard to the president. The original image didn’t include the toot emerging from the president’s head, which created some ambiguity as to whether this was a picture of an asshat or a penis hat. I suggested he add a fart, but that may not have helped.
From the back:
If you weren’t a dumbass, you would know that the Immigration Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination by country.
A 12 year old smarter than you.”
Both sides of the card gave me pause. It’s not because I think Trump isn’t an asshate/dickhead, though I do generally avoid insults that equate folks with genitals–mostly because I want to foster sex-positive attitudes, and that means “penis” and “butt” and “pussy” aren’t insults. My concern was that letting my tween use that kind of language was demeaning to him.
When we got the invitation, my son was quick to point out that I’d be the one to go while my spouse stayed home with the younger kids. “Mom’s motto is ‘Never miss a chance to be pissed off!'” he joked, which has been increasingly true. But I also don’t want anger to be my primary emotion. I certainly don’t want it for my kids, who are going to be burdened with the residual mess of their elders’ voting choices for years anyway. Anyway, anger isn’t sustainable, and the Trump administration’s plan is to unleash a firehose of repulsive policies in an effort to overwhelm opponents–including making us exhausted.
Because anger can be only so productive, I’m not committed to letting my tween swear, even at someone as swear-inducing as Donald Trump. We believe that language matters, and that how you speak about someone also says something about you. We’ve generally been a “when they go low, we go high” type of people, though lately I’ve been embracing going low, getting down in the dirt. Then I have these moments of conviction, wondering if I’m wandering from my greater commitment to preserve the other person’s dignity, to help them do right without doing damage to them. I’ve known a lot of truly awful people, and none of them have ever done better because someone called them a terrible name. Yet the actions of the Trump administration are shameful and deserved to be shamed–or, at least, we must make the effort to shame them, even if Donald Trump and his supporters are incapable of feeling it, because we need to keep recognizing shameful behavior for what it is, and those injured by it must see that we see it for what it is.
In Immortality, Milan Kundera writes,“Hate traps us by binding us too tightly to our adversary. This is the obscenity of war: the intimacy of mutually shed blood, the lascivious proximity of two soldiers who, eye to eye, bayonet each other.” We are thinking, in our family, about the wastefulness of war, not a word choice, as an obscenity. We are thinking of the human dignity assaulted by US foreign policy, of the profanity of the Trump administration’s failure to even show up to Syrian peace talks because it is too incompetent to be ready for world engagement at the outset of Trump’s tenure. How to address these obscenities without binding ourselves to them in hate is our challenge, and we’re not yet good at it, but it appears we will have daily opportunities to improve.