• US President elect Donald Trump was painted as a bad role model for children throughout his presidential campaign. (AAP) (The Gazette, AAP)Source: The Gazette, AAP
Trump is being painted as a bad role model for children, but when it comes to positions of power, character doesn't count for much, writes Helen Razer.
Helen Razer

23 Nov 2016 - 3:14 PM  UPDATED 23 Nov 2016 - 4:27 PM

There can be, in my view, no better day in the annual life of a child than Halloween. While it is true that this celebration derives from the Western idea of evil, it is also true that the love of sugar and dressing like a twit is a universal kid truth. The night might come from a Christian calendar, but the pleasure is very inclusive, and it was for me too at my front door this year.

When kids rebel gently as a single force against grownups, you can see all their other cultural distinctions fall into peace. The dozens of little imps, robots and anime drawings that knocked did so as one. They were different – hijabi Harry Potters, Skip dudes dressed like cuddly bears – but united; a bit like a very colourful trade union whose only qualification for membership was being less than a metre tall.

The most prevalent costume trend this year was Donald Trump. There were three at my joint, only one of them white and male, and I saw dozens more that night on Facebook. My neighbourhood kids, like all the kids in other neighbourhoods I saw on social media, had elected (or been persuaded) to dress like a Trump monster. These kids were pretty funny, and they had the caricature down. When Donald Trump demanded “trick or treat”, he appeared as he did to many: a coarse cartoon whose unthinkable hatred becomes comic, even to a kid.

That these kids could see that this man was to be understood less as a politician than a vulgar clown made me happy. It also advanced an opinion I have long held: people aren’t quite as stupid as we sometimes prefer to think they are. Sure, they can make some terrible collective decisions, but the reasons they do so are not just down to them being thick or naïve.

But, give me a choice between good policy and good character, and I’ll take the former, thanks.

Kids know that Trump is a joke, because nearly everybody does. That many people think that a joke is a suitable democratic response is a terrible matter. As is the matter of that joke now being the world’s most powerful arbiter of trade, work and war. We must now take the joke seriously, because the decisions this orange punchline makes will affect our futures. But the character of the man himself? I think we need to stop worrying about that so much, because even the kids on my street can see that this part of Trump is only to be laughed at.

I have read and heard much in recent days from adults that the real thing we need to worry about with Trump is the bad example he will set to the young and impressionable. It’s his bad character, grownups say, that is the concern. And while it is certainly true that the vile things he says are currently being echoed in the streets of the USA, it is also true that this, however horrid, is not the most of our concerns.

Trump will never truly be a role model for kids, or even for those currently shrieking painful obscenity in American suburbs. He may have given a certain legitimacy to racists, just as John Howard did in 2001 with his unforgivable anti-Islamic rhetoric. There were more racially motivated Australian crimes in that horrible year and there will be this year in the world’s most powerful nation.

But the man’s legacy and power will never be as a ‘role model’. This, after all, is a person whose party dominates both houses of Congress. There is a lot more damage he can do at the institutional level over time than on the streets at present. A racist insult is a terrible thing; it can paralyse a person. Policy that leads to imprisonment or poverty or deportation for millions? This is our truest problem. And this, we don’t look at, because we’re so busy worrying the guy is a bad ‘role model’, when even our children know immediately that he’s no kind of role model at all.

If we were looking at these problems of prison and joblessness and deportation, if we had been concerned at a basic level for our brothers and sisters of colour, we would have said something sooner. We would have asked why Obama deported more “undocumented” people than any previous president, according to US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement figures. We would have asked why Hillary Clinton was so eager, as a Senator, to vote for the Iraq war, so happy as Secretary to invade Libya and so enthusiastic to support her husband’s 1996 crime bill which led to the incarceration of millions of people, largely of colour.

But, we said very little. Because these people are those we consider good ‘role models’.

Look. Give me a choice of eternity spent in hell with the monster or the reasonable sounding professional politician, and I’ll take Hillary every time. Give me a choice of who to vote for, and I’d probably just write “I GIVE UP!” on the ballot.

But, give me a choice between good policy and good character, and I’ll take the former, thanks.

These two things are not the same. Good people can do terrible things, and bad people can produce good outcomes. The character of a person is just not as important as many hold it to be. Sometimes, their character is something to be ignored and not taken as a measure of anything serious. The little kids on my street know this. I’m surprised that nobody else does. 


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