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Thoughts on Parenting in an Election Year

dan-dewoskin-new-photoby Daniel DeWoskin
President, DeKalb Bar Association

I am a cynic. I cannot deny it, nor would I ever try to do so. As much as anyone else does, I enjoy how alive the nation gets in an election year, watching as the most clever comedy writers explode with creativity and television editors can hardly sleep for the mining of the gold that takes place on the campaign trail. I can still recall in 2000 when many of my friends believed that our nation would be destroyed never to return if their candidate did not win. Many of my friends would argue that the country was irreparably destroyed. It was not.

In this particularly contentious election season, I am enjoying the same comedy gold that I always do, and to a somewhat greater extent. However, this time around, I have young children who are also paying attention. Amidst my sarcastic comments about candidates and issues, bandied about in the dinner conversations my wife and I have about what concerns we have for the future of the country, my kids are watching, listening, and asking questions to try to form a picture of how we see and value our leaders. This is a more sobering thought for us.

In this particularly contentious election season . . . my kids are watching, listening, and asking questions to try to form a picture of how we see and value our leaders.”

When I was a child, political debates were boring, at least to me and most other children. They usually involved rather stoic looking individuals in a dialogue that involved terminology that was not heard on a playground or in a school cafeteria. Maybe it is just me, but this year, the behavior of the debates would be very familiar to school-aged children. They would see name calling, candidates refusing to allow one another to speak, bullying, ridicule not just of ideas, but of other candidates’ physical appearances, and the absence of anything that would be described as the behavior of a statesman.

Now, don’t get me wrong. My kids did not spend much time watching the debates. I could not even bring myself to watch much of them. The absence of decorum, the absence of behavior that I would want my children to see and to appreciate as qualities of the leaders of our nation has been a very disconcerting matter for me. The very things I laugh and joke about in this election year with my friends and colleagues, I find embarrassing to discuss with my children. Many of the people who have been seeking the highest office in this country do not display the behaviors of good human beings and good citizens. It is also clear that they are not merely blinded by their passion for service to their country nor that they momentarily lost the capacity for decency and propriety, but instead that they are impulsive, childish, starved for power and control, and mean-spirited.

Were I to point to one or two particular candidates and attack him or her for a particular low moment, of which there are so many to choose from, I would perhaps only serve to inform my children of my own political leanings. That is exactly what I am not trying to do when working to instill a sense of pride in democracy and what makes a free society. There are so many things that I want them to value about being an American.

My own parents disagreed with so much of what took place politically when I was growing up, and there was no question that they liked some politicians and did not like others. Still, there was meaning to the word “statesman” that is very difficult to define these days. The attacks that one politician would launch against an opponent did not compromise the candidates own values, but I am sure I, like so many, am looking in the rear view mirror with rose colored glasses.

There are party leaders who, even for children too young to appreciate the greatest and most apropos criticism, cannot be trusted to be a good example of how one should carry himself in a public setting. This is a tremendous calamity. It is not satire and there is little humor in it. It is an embarrassment for our entire nation. Truly, our next commander in chief could be a person of very little moral and intellectual substance. If you are a person who is confident that your preferred candidate is different and will likely win this year, then think about how things may continue to deteriorate and imagine what the landscape may look like in 2020.

It may be easier to look at this of it a little differently. Imagine for a moment that during one of the more disruptive and less productive debates, all of the candidates’ mothers and fathers were looking on from a high window. How would they feel watching their children engaged in the debate? Would they be proud to see them arguing and yelling like children in a playground dispute? Would they think such behavior properly reflected the values that they wished to instill in their children so that they grew up to be well-adjusted and responsible adults? Of course they would not.

I expect far more of my young children on a day-to-day basis than I can expect of the person who is perhaps to be our next president. As the primaries pass and we progress, for lack of a better term, to the general election, I am certain we will see more vitriol, more anger, and more divisiveness. Somehow, I will struggle to explain that it is all part of the bloodless exchange of power at the highest level that makes this nation the best place in the world to live. I will cherry pick the things that make me proud to be a citizen of this country while possibly lamenting the shame I have about some of its leaders.

I should reiterate that I am not above singling out and using colorful, hopefully creative labels for politicians and aspiring politicians that I disfavor. I do so amongst friends and colleagues, and I do not do so as part of a campaign. I stand up for people of moral character and I express concerns over those whom I do not feel properly represent those whom they have been elected to champion. The biggest difference is that I am not running for office, standing before television cameras, and telling the public I would make them proud as a leader while at the same time engaging in behavior that should make them ashamed to ever have me as a houseguest.

Once again, as I mentioned above, the country did not disintegrate after the 2000 election. It will not disintegrate after the 2016 election either. I am fortunate to be able to speak with my parents in the near future about what their thoughts were when they were critical and concerned about the leaders that they were electing thirty years ago and more. I wonder if they thought that the political landscape then was deteriorating and that the qualities they expected in our leaders were fading. As a cynic and a fan of clever comedy writing, I love an election year. As a parent and as an American voter, I am having less and less fun every four years.

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