Can Trump learn empathy from the children he cages?

You Can Say Anything book cover

Trump…and children. When Bob and I set out to write this book, we felt it was a stretch to see the morally ambivalent Trump through the eyes of children. And yet, here we are, now — Trump floundering with one heartless policy after another directed at children. Separating children from their parents, detaining them in cages, detaining families indefinitely — all for political manipulation so he can feed the anger and fear that drives his base. About as un-American (and inhumane) as you can get.

Through all Trump’s turmoil, we wanted to end the book on a more hopeful note. One of the few hopes we saw was a more positive, caring generation of youth who will eventually replace us. We ended the book with an image — a group of kids working together for a better world. They are planting a tree as Trump looks on in bewilderment, a small figure on a distant horizon.

Would the emotionally stunted Trump learn anything from the children who demonstrate a more caring view of the world? As Bob crafted the final page and filled it with so many subtle emotions, we wondered — will Trump learn? Could Trump learn from children who are more emotionally developed than him? We didn’t know. He has a blank look in the illustration.

Now it’s clear, he cannot learn. The basic seed of empathy that grows in most children is missing in him. He crossed the line, and rather than stepping back, expressing regret at least on some aspect of his policies, he blusters ahead, rallying more fear and anger.

We are still hopeful that despite all the wrong directions being thrown at the next generation, they will grow with our caring, that the decency of most Americans will outgrow the fear of the few.

children planting a tree while trump looks on

Trump calling people names

Children Know: Name-Calling isn’t Presidential

If you ask most school children what the President does, they can tell you right away — the President is the leader, the one entrusted to make decisions and chart directions on behalf of all the country. And, uh-oh, looks like we’ve got a problem here if the leader is bent on name calling in the crudest ways, yucking it up on twitter as if we all just slap dashing around in some pro-wrestling match.  (Shouldn’t he be preparing for a meeting with Vladimir Putin or something?)

Trump uses name-calling, anger, and bullying as a tool to divide the country. As someone who grew up in the midwest watching pro wrestling and now lives on the east coast, I get it. He’s built on resentment. Rather than uniting the country toward a common goal, serving those who’ve been left behind, and creating the best health care in the world for all in the US, he’s fanning the flames of resentment and anger. He’s solidified a small base of people who, rather than feel hope, feel the satisfaction of anger-bashing a perceived enemy.

Any schoolchild will know that’s not what’s expected of a President. That’s not what children learn from Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. That’s not what a President does.

Trump's disparaging comments about women

Can Children Help Trump Speak More Respectfully?

There’s a golden age — maybe four or five? — when children learn there are “bad words” and may begin to test them out.  Someone is “stupid” and, yikes, they realize they shouldn’t have said that. And, hopefully, as children mature, they come to realize that what you get out of the world is connected to what you put into it, and if you’re pumping out bad feelings about other people all the time, you will often get the same in return.

But what happens when adults don’t make that connection and continue to pump out bad words and feelings about other people frequently? And what happens if they become President? And they are trying to pass legislation they think is important, and improve their standing among the population, and gain respect and cooperation from other leaders? But instead, they dwell on the bottom, calling other people “psycho”, “low IQ” and “crazy”? And look for hurtful ways to demean people physically?

Children will come to realize there is something wrong with that person. That they aren’t a normal adult, and they aren’t acting in a way that adults should act. Children grapple with these issues — and so maybe then they’d be best to advise Trump. Organize an advisory council of children, one from each state, working with him every morning on how to communicate with decorum before he picks up his iPhone.

How we got started

It was a few days after the election, and I was despondent. “How could this have happened? It can’t be real…”  Like I had been punched in the gut, and the future only seemed to look worse as we anticipated Supreme Court selections, Congress, healthcare, etc.

On Facebook what had been cheerful posts from friends wearing pantsuits turned darker, despondent and hopeless. In the midst of that, I threw my hands in the air — what can I do?  There’s nothing…nothing…

So I started writing a list of crazy things I could do. Things so improbable and nonsensical that there would be no possible response to pull me down. And I posted it as a joke Facebook: “I’m going to write a children’s book based on the words of Donald Trump.”


But I kind of liked it. It made me smile. And my friend Bob Thibeault, whose illustrations I’ve admired for many years, liked it too. We sent some quick messages back and forth — yes!  We’re going to do this!  So we got started…