On my drive home today my kids were talking in the back seat and I was catching snippets of their conversation…

“No! Donald Trump isn’t going to… {unintelligible}”

“Yeah but Bernie Sanders is going to win!”

“No! Bernie is voting for Hillary now!”

“Yeah, but my friend Katherine says her dad told her that she stole… {unintelligible}”

And on it went. Pretty soon I found myself getting sad. These are grade school children! While I’m happy they have some understanding of the world around them, there is also a part of me that thinks kids shouldn’t have to worry about politics at all. Sure, they learn about it in school as part of their education, but when it becomes a regular discussion topic among kids who still think that chicken nuggets vs. vegetables is a just as worthy a debate, it makes me pause. 

Now I know I’m far more politically conscious than your average dope. But I will talk about politics with my children only when they ask questions, and even then I try to give them a balanced answer. But I was truly amazed to hear my children mentioning that there are so many kids discussing the finer points of the most screwed up presidential races in recent memory when they are at summer camp! I mean shouldn’t they be squishing slugs, or giving each other wedgies or something?!

I’ve always spoken to my children like they have adult brains. They may not have the knowledge, but they have the capacity. And so when they ask “Why?” about something, I do my best to answer. They’ve started calling these “Dad’s history lessons.”

For example, if they ask why the is sky blue I will explain light and prisms and rainbows. Then I’ll move on to how those colors have different distances they can travel and how some get filtered out by our atmosphere before they get to our eyes and so we see… you get the point. And if I don’t know the answer I’ll go find out with them. They love these talks and I find it helps me focus and try to see if I can explain complex system in simple terms. And I learn to. 

But sometimes the “Why?” question is in response to something less fun, you know like “Why did Donald Trump say he wants to punch that man in the face? That’s not nice to say!”

How do you explain something like that?! Of course I do try, but I end up saying “Ummm…”, and “Well…”, and “You see…”, a whole lot. Partially because I’m trying to give a measured explanation and not my opinion. I want to tell my kids the truth, but allow them to make up their own minds. But in the end you can’t spend years telling them not to hit each other, and then say this is okay to say if you’re running for president. And so I many times I have to be honest and just say “I don’t know. That didn’t seem very nice to me, I don’t know why he would say that.”, because I hoestly don’t.

I don’t have a clue as to why that’s a good thing to say. Nor does most of the Republican Party that he represents. The press loves that he said it because it means ratings, but they don’t really care if good or not. And while the amount of parents who teach their kids to punch each other is dwindling in America, they’re still out there, so someone thinks it’s okay. They can usually found in the crowd sucker punching some protester who is being lead out of the arena.

So ultimately this political season is so sensational that it’s appealing even to children. And this is coming from a guy who was the same age as my kids when Nixon resigned. My mother told me to watch the news with her because of how historic it was… and I did… and I remember it… but I don’t remember going and talking about it while dangling off the monkey bars at the playground. 

There is no moral to this story, no neat and tidy prose to wrap it up with. My children are becoming politically aware during an election cycle that shows the worst we have to offer. On one side we have threats and antics, giving out private phone numbers, making fun of people, and general high schoolish behavior. My kids see this and wonder why an adult is acting like this, and I have no explanation.

On the other side we have the perception of experience and dignity, but underneath is badly hidden political manipulation of votes and false party neutrality. My kids see that too because they knew so many supporters of Bernie, and as the stories rolled in they saw people lose hope as their efforts and donations were stolen away from them. They ask questions about that too, and I couldn’t explain it either.

Now we’re heading in to a general election and once a week I get asked who I’m going to vote for, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? I tell them that I’m not sure, and I remind them that there are a lot of other choices who aren’t being talked about. I tell them about Jill Stein and Gary Johnson and all of the other candidates that they will never hear about. I try to explain partisan politics in simple terms, but inevitable I say “I just don’t know.” Because, I don’t know. I do know that no matter how much I want almost any other party to win, there is very little chance in reality that it will actually happen.

And so today I realized that school kids on the playground are representative of most voters. They are easily influenced by their friends and they are barely informed on the candidates themselves, let alone the actual issues and where they stand on them. They use word like “hate” and “butt head” just like their parents do. They see it as entertaining and can’t grasp the long-term consequences. In short, the efforts to reduce politics to 140 characters has worked, and along with it the national awareness has been reduced proportionally, so much so that kids can understand what’s being said, but not what’s going on… just like their parents.