The girl has always been curious beyond her years. She pays attention to things. When she was perhaps six, she asked me one night, “did there used to be laws that said boys couldn’t marry boys?” When I answered in the affirmative, her immediate follow-up question was, “what was it like back then?”
This was perhaps a month after the Supreme Court’s landmark gay marriage ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges.
The girl pays attention.
So it came as no surprise when the now sixth-grader asked if she could watch last night’s Presidential Debate. At first, we answered yes. But then, as the hour drew nearer, I told her we would record it and she could watch today instead. We asked her to go to bed and read.
Part of the reason for the change was Central Standard Time. Having lived out here for nearly six and a half years, I have in some ways overcompensated for having spent my first 43 years on the east coast. When I read the debate was to begin at 8:00, I assumed Eastern Time, meaning a 7:00 start for us. Plenty early for the girl to see the first hour or so.
The other part was harder to explain at the time. But there was something in me, telling me I did not want my child to watch what was about to happen.
“You think they’re gonna talk about racism and stuff?” she asked.
“Yes, but it’s not just that,” I answered. “I just… I don’t know that this is something we want you watching right now.”
We have always tried to raise our children with open eyes to the world around them. I want them to learn about the world, about the country they call home. I want them to know the men who founded this country fell far short of the ideals they put to paper. They drove slaves. They deprived women of basic rights. They broke treaty after treaty, and nearly extinguished an entire population in the name of Manifest Destiny. They were unable to end the stain of slavery without first fighting a war that killed more than 600,000 of them. And even then, they followed that war with another century of systematic oppression, which even today has not been entirely expunged.
They fell short of their ideals, but the reason we know this is because they put those ideals down in writing. Which, for 240 years, has given us a target to strive for. When we fall short, we can try to improve. That has been the purpose of the “grand experiment” from the beginning.
I did not want my child, or any of them, to see exactly how far we have fallen from those ideals.
I knew the President would use last night as another opportunity to lie to the American people. It is literally the only tool in his verbal arsenal. He would lie about having a health care plan. He would lie about COVID-19. He would lie about Black Lives Matter. He would lie about the military, the economy, his own record, his opponent’s record.
But it was the way he lied. The bullying. The interrupting. Talking over and through both his opponent and the alleged moderator. Joe Biden spoke for too much of America when he finally said, “will you just shut up, man?”
I stopped paying attention after about 20 minutes, feeling very justified in my decision to have my child read in her room instead of watching. My parents probably would have been delighted had I asked to watch the Reagan-Mondale debates. But I don’t want my kid to see the country like this. I don’t want her to see what level of awfulness 43% of the country happily support. An 11-year old may not recognize creeping fascism or racist dog whistles (“Stand back and stand by.”) But she recognizes a bully when she sees one.
My vote in this election was never up for grabs, and has in fact already been cast. I voted for Biden, but I’m really voting for her. Not just for the health care she or her mother could lose. But for the country she’s growing up in. The country I would like her to continue growing up in.