American history is full of presidents who made great role models. Americans have been led by truth-tellers, uniters, and peacemakers. We’ve also been led by some world-class jerks, but even those guys could generally be trusted to not embarrass the family at social functions. Not so much with President Donald Trump, who spent Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference having a public tantrum that would make a 5-year-old blanch. The only difference between the behavior of the president and the behavior of a kid in need of discipline was that after two hours of name calling, profanity, and sarcasm, the president received an ovation.
These are trying times to be a parent.
Let’s just start with the swearing. In my house, “stupid” is a curse word. If one of my boys says “Oh my God,” he’s corrected to “gosh” post haste. I get that this is a bit much, but I dread the day they start using damn and hell as rhetorical punctuation like Trump did at CPAC. I know it will lead to worse. It always does. Trump called the Mueller probe “bullshit.” Is that a crime worthy of impeachment? No, but it’s unbecoming and, in my house, reason enough for a one-way ticket to the naughty step.
If it was just bad language, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. But the rhetoric got way uglier. Consider the mocking of Jeff Sessions, a person I don’t much respect, for having a southern accent. In my house, we try to teach our kids to be respectful when speaking about other people, even if we don’t particularly like them. Blatant mockery will get you a couple of minutes to think about your actions. I’m also pretty sure that the diatribe about the United States combat general who goes by Raisin Kane (“I said what the hell kind of a name? Like raisin? The fruit?”) was offensive, but frankly, I couldn’t follow it well enough to put a finger on precisely how.
Naturally, Trump did the same thing my kids do when they say something ill-advised and want to back away from it. Trump trotted out “just joking.” He was, he seemed compelled to explain, being playful when he asked Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails. He was just goofing off with some like-minded pals. There was nothing to it. Can’t anybody take a treasonous joke? Geez.
Add to all of this the standard lies about crowd sizes and killer immigrants, and Trump very much came off like a kid hiding his marker stained hands behind his back after marking up the living room wall. If he were one of my kids, he would have been spending some time in his room, with no Fox news for a week for good measure.
And the thing is that I honestly believe in time outs. For my children, I believe they offer time to reflect on bad decisions and consider better behaviors. A time out isn’t really punitive as much as it’s a simple pause — time to stop and think. In my house, we use time outs as a point of discussion. It’s how we reaffirm our values as a household and remind the boys what the Coleman family stands for.
As silly as it sounds, I do think Trump might benefit from a time out. (Mar a Lago, anyone?) And I’m not talking about punishment. I’m talking about some silent time to catch his breath, calm down and take a real hard think about American values. You know, the same values his predecessors in both parties tried to uphold. And after he’s taken the time, he should be able to explain to us, the American people who he works for, just where he went wrong and how he can fix it.
If he does that, Trump will be modeling good behavior to kids. And, yes, that’s part of his job. He’s supposed to make being an American easier, not harder. And a lot of Americans, it turns out, are parents.