In this most tumultuous of campaign seasons, explaining politics to the kid.
I don’t remember which of this endless election cycle’s Super Tuesdays it was, exactly. Could have been Super Tuesday II: The Tuesday-est. Might have been Super Tuesday III: The Inane-en-ing. The flaws of the Super Tuesday franchise — weak plots, bad actors, lousy production across too many platforms — render them much the same.
Still, and for whatever reason, at dinner I flipped to NPR’s political coverage, and my daughter — of course, my daughter — had questions. Lots of questions.
The thing is, I wasn’t quite ready to discuss politics with her. War, famine, pestilence, Barbie — I could handle all of that. Politics is different, at least in our country’s current state. Politics is worse. Already she’d caught me watching a few debates and I’d jumped for the remote to change the channel to something less embarrassing for us as humans — like cage fighting.
I’d thoughtlessly left a New Yorker out where she could see the cover, an illustration of Lincoln, Kennedy, Washington and the Roosevelts (Frank and Teddy) gathered around a television watching Donald Trump shout.
“Look, it’s Dudley from Harry Potter!” the kiddo said, pointing to Trump. She cocked her head and took another, closer look. “Is it Dudley from Harry Potter?”
My dad had bought her an illustrated edition of The Sorcerer’s Stone and we’d torn through it in about a week. And indeed there was a similarity between the Trump on the magazine cover and the bloated, spoiled, loud and mean Dudley Dursley in the illustrated text.
I explained it wasn’t Dudley, but also that she wasn’t entirely wrong. She was perceptive. That’s how Donald Trump became “the Dudley guy” in our house. Listening to NPR on Super Tuesday Whatever, they cut live to a speech and my daughter asked, “Is that the Dudley guy?”
It wasn’t. It was Ohio governor John Kasich, who I explained was — in both temperament and wardrobe (and probably politics) — much more like her grandfather. “Will the Dudley guy make bad laws if he becomes president?” she asked.
It was a rainy spring evening. My wife was working and having already opted for the laziest of dinner options, I reached for the empty McDonald’s bag, grabbed a pen and tried to explain bicameral legislation and our system of checks and balances to a kindergartener.
I scribbled the branches of government on the bag and put her name in the Senate. She jumped up and ran around the room, and then danced a jig, and then sang a song. I moved her to the House of Representatives and proceeded to do my best Schoolhouse Rock.
“So let’s say you want to make a law that says everyone with your name doesn’t have to go to school on Friday,” I said.
“Oooooh,” she said.
“But people who don’t have your name might not like that. They might want to try to change the law.”
“Like what if all my friends were also there with me?” she said, naming all of her friends — none of whom share her name.
“Yes,” I said. “All of them. That’s fine.”
By the time I got to reconciliation, she decided she knew enough and went off to play with the cheap plastic car that came with her Happy Meal. That left me with the bag, a greasy sack of bad choices marked up with the basic infrastructure of a government that will shape the world my daughter navigates.
I think they call a bag like that a metaphor. I turned 6 the summer of 1980, as Ronald Reagan was campaigning toward the White House. That election is my earliest political memory. My daughter will turn 6 in June. This may well be hers.
And it appears as I write this that Oregon’s primary might just matter. That’s a learning opportunity and when the voter guide arrives … I’ll probably hide it and see if she wants to re-read Harry Potter.
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