A U.S. president wears many hats, some unwittingly. Officially, (s)he is the chief of state, the chief executive, the commander in chief, the chief citizen, the chief diplomat, the party chief, and the chief administrator. Unofficially, she is other things, including the global figurehead of the United States as a whole, and — what we often don’t think about enough — a role model for children.
For a period of 8 years, American children and their parents were fortunate to have Barack Obama in the White House. He was the epitome of grace under fire, of coolness and confidence under the harshest and slimiest attack (of which there were too many to count), of cheer and good will toward all. And many other qualities of sound and admirable leadership.
But kids have not always been so lucky.
Richard Nixon taught them that the end justifies the means. Ronald Reagan taught them that style triumphs over substance. George W. Bush taught them that family connections are more important than ability. And now we have number 45, who is teaching them all of the above plus much, much more.
They are learning that they can lie brazenly, outlandishly, constantly, without fear of repercussions.
They are learning that bragging, threats and pettiness are considered signs of “strength”.
They are learning that, contrary to what adults have been teaching them for years, bullying is really cool and gets you lots of admiring attention.
They are learning that selfishness and narcissism are the ultimate virtues.
They are learning that if you are rich and powerful enough, you can get away with anything.
They are learning to never accept responsibility for their mistakes and misdeeds — and they should just lie, deny, cover up and deflect blame to someone else.
They are learning to pick scapegoats for any problem they have been experiencing.
They are learning that instant gratification is all that matters.
They are learning that childish insults and attacks against other people will make themselves feel more important.
They are learning that there is no need to learn anything about anything if they pretend to know everything about everything.
They are learning that it doesn’t matter what they actually do, as long as they can convince enough people to believe whatever they say.
They are learning that there is no need ever to grow up because childish behavior will be rewarded superlatively.
It will be a few years before we see how these lessons really bear fruit. But for once, we’d better hope like hell that kids aren’t paying attention.