Last spring, when I was still managing to mostly ignore the presidential election, my 5-year-old son came home from pre-kindergarten up in arms about the Republican nominee. One of his buddies had heard about a guy named Donald Trump who wanted to build a wall. "He wants to keep people out," my son said. "But that isn't nice. And he wants to be president." He flashed me a scolding look.
I couldn't help but be pleased, and not just because I felt the same way. My own political awareness had taken longer to bloom than I like to admit. Sure, after a family trip to Washington, D.C. I wandered around our Colorado suburb wearing a T-shirt that said, "A woman's place is in the house, and in the senate."
But the presidential campaigns of my youth held little allure for me. I see this largely as a failure of imagination — I didn't see myself reflected in the candidates, all middle-aged men. I also had trouble connecting with the ideas and ideologies they stood for.
Soon after my son first heard of Trump, I learned that many of the kids in his Brooklyn school had no trouble identifying, often passionately, with many of this election's issues under discussion. My son often arrives home from school bursting with new information about one or another class rule Trump has violated. “Donald Trump makes fun of people!" he’ll tell me. "He doesn't share!
Inspired by her brother’s passion, even my 3-year-old daughter jumped on the bandwagon. Walking to and from the playground and school, the two will gesticulate wildly, shouting back and forth things like: “Donald Trump is a bully!" “I don’t want him to be president!"
Overhearing this, more than one mom has stopped to tell me that her preschooler says the same types of thing.
One thing is clear: At least in our liberal neck of the woods, Donald Trump has energized the local pre-school set. Through their eyes, his ideas and actions violate those life lessons they are just beginning to understand and still struggling to master. Those most basic tenets of being a good person and a considerate community member, be it a nation of hundreds of millions or a pre-kindergarten class of 20: That sharing isn’t always easy, for instance, but is crucial to do. That including others should be the goal. That it's important to take turns, not interrupt, play nice, and do your part.
Without even trying, Trump may have politicized at least one subset of young people more effectively than any Rock the Vote-type effort ever could.
But will this penchant for politics stick? Four years from now, when the conversation has (hopefully) shifted away from slander and back to policy, will my son and his cohorts still care?
I can't say for sure. But I do believe this: This election will change everything for our daughters.
One morning, as I held my daughter’s hand while walking her to daycare, she asked, "Is Hillary Clinton a girl?"
I paused, wanting to explain the significance of it all. Then I decided not to.
"Yup," I said nonchalantly, as though it were no big deal. "Hillary is a girl. Just like us."