I very clearly remember the awkward but necessary conversations with my parents.
The president had done something inappropriate with a woman —again — although, this time it was in the White House and he lied while trying to cover it up. I was a savvy teenager and knew enough not to press for details(even the evening news was careful in its handling of the situation), but it was difficult to discuss the state of national politics and avoid all the topics my parents preferred to avoid.
Still, I came away with this message: character matters, especially in a president.
Twenty years later, despite the break from moral scandal when two personally decent men occupied the White House, it’s my turn to figure out how I might explain the president’s illicit actions, a constant media topic, to my kids.
This week’s developments have certainly created a lot of political intrigue. Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted on tax fraud and Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, entered a guilty plea and apparently indicated that Trump ordered hush money payments to two of the president’s former paramours.
The media will focus on the alleged illegal activity,campaign finance violations, impeachment and other eye-glazing topics that capture the attention of political insiders and activists. But the national discussion will mostly avoid the elements of this debacle that should matter to Americans, especially those raising families. The heart of this scandal, like Clinton’s,is morality and the themes are adultery, selfishness and dishonesty.
Around the dinner table in 1998, my parents didn’t engage the politics or gory details of what was happening in the White House; they addressed the underlying issue of personal character — decency, fidelity and the ability to accept the consequences for one’s actions.
Why isn’t the same thing true today?
In the 1990s, conservatives rightly bemoaned the fact that Clinton’s illicit sexual appetites had become an inescapable part of the national discourse. I say this not to engage in what-about-ism, but to compare it to the actions of some of Trump’s conservative defenders today, who regard his infidelity and attempts to cover it up with the same indifference as Clinton’s defenders years ago.
It’s true that Clinton’s supporters are largely responsible for lowering the standard by which we currently judge presidential character. They wrote the playbook for defending depravity, but it’s being put to use today by people who should know better.
As a conservative, that’s hard to accept.
As a parent, it’s even more devastating.
Our culture is so coarsened by immorality and so divided by politics that the affairs behind Trump’s alleged actions are barely an afterthought. The adult film star who had a consensual affair with the president has been heralded as a hero by some. Any hope for dinner table discussions that don’t involve the sexual antics of national leaders is all but quashed.
How will you talk to your kids about Trump?