So, here we are, watching our friends on the other side of the pond as they begin a new era with a new President. I know emotions are high and there are many feeling a lot of anxious feelings today about what will happen now.
I watched the inauguration with my children. I’d like to tell you this was an educational decision based on what I thought would benefit them. In truth, it was entirely selfish as I just wanted to watch it all unfold, and to watch an amazing man depart gracefully as a not-so-amazing man took over.
But it was interesting to watch it with the children. Firstly, I was amazed that they didn’t have a full on meltdown about the fact that CBeebies/Peter Pan/Superheroes/Lego (delete as appropriate) was not on the TV. Usually, it’s a bit of a hard negotiation to get any type of grown up programming (news) on the telly during the daytime. This time though, they appeared a bit transfixed. Visually it was quite a stunning thing to watch. Everybody looked very polished and beautiful. There were lots of people in uniforms. The cars were state-of-the-art, the buildings were glorious, the red carpet was blue, and everything was precision-choreographed. My daughter likened it to watching the war commemorations and I understood that. To her, it did look like that, just without the Queen.
They both enjoyed watching and my daughter talked a lot about the outgoing and incoming Presidents, though she had no clue about their politics but she had a deep fascination with their ties. Donald Trump was ‘Mr Red Tie’ and Barack Obama was ‘Mr Blue Tie’.
As the inauguration went on, I tried to explain little bits to the kids. After the start, my son was not too bothered. He’s three and playing with Lego Superman was hands-down more exciting. But my daughter paid more attention and I tried to explain to her, in words a four-year old could comprehend, what was happening. I told her that a really good man was leaving his job and a man who wasn’t so good was taking over. I pointed out Hillary Clinton and told her that she was a good lady and a lot of people were sad as they had wanted her to be the President. When the images of protestors breaking windows came on, she asked me what they were doing. How do you explain protesting to somebody so little? No, I don’t know either. I made some rubbish attempt to explain it, but included a caveat that breaking windows was never good.
It was very much unplanned to watch with them and try to explain things but it did get me thinking about how to explain politics to children. I don’t have the first idea how to do this, and indeed if I should when they are so little. I remember having no interest in politics as a child or young adult. The only thing I paid attention to was the general message around me that the Prime Minister at the time (Thatcher) was not liked. I didn’t even pay any attention when Tony Blair took office in 1997. I was sixteen and there were much more important things in life – boys, pop music, trying to be cool, discovering hair straighteners, and boys again.
But politics are all around us, they matter. So how do we make that important to children and young people and, crucially, how do we make it interesting? I think in the UK it is an uphill struggle. To most of us, our political system looks like a bit of a farce really, controlled by a group of people who share with each other their privileged lives and have little in common with and little understanding of the people they are supposed to represent. Now I know this doesn’t account for everyone and I know there are some wonderful elected people working locally for their communities who do fabulous things, but this is rarely shown. Rather more we see a lot of shouting and jeering by political opponents sitting on dark green benches, not actually appearing to make any progress working together to run a country, because they are so busy insulting each other. Bizarre.
Anyway, these are just my thoughts. I have no answer at the moment for how to make it interesting or relevant to young people. I would like one day to see somebody leading our country who inspires the same awe and respect and wonderment as Obama did and still does. For many of us in the UK, we almost envy that America had him even for a short while.
I’ll leave you with this. Towards the end of the inauguration viewing, my daughter decided President Trump could be upgraded from Mr Red Tie and now he will forever be known, in our family at least, as President Trumpypants.