Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a Rochester-area rally earlier this year.
While Donald Trump was pulling the presidential campaign further into the slime this past weekend, our oldest grandson was debating public policy in a competition that drew teams from around the country.
Our grandson, a junior in a large public school, is a devoted debater. At debate camp this past summer, he spent seven weeks studying and arguing the year’s competition topic: Whether the US should increase its trade and diplomatic efforts with China.
At the moment, public-policy debating dominates this teenager’s extracurricular life – as it does for his debate-team partner and for many of the other high school debaters who participate in these competitions. They spend their weekends focusing on public policy.
On vacation with our grandson in August, I asked him what he was thinking about for a career. His answer: politics, maybe.
Later, on a drive through the rolling hills of northern Michigan, past farms and orchards, his face erupted into a big smile. The view made him “feel patriotic,” he said. “It makes me think: ‘This is America.’”
I tried to keep that memory in my mind Sunday night as I watched the ugliness of today’s national politics spew out on the stage at Washington University. This, too – to the horror of many of us – is America.
Nobody should have needed the weekend’s shocking developments to recognize the danger of putting Donald Trump in the White House. He has demonstrated enough ignorance, prejudice, and emotional instability to prove that he’s a threat to national security and a whole lot more. And it says a lot about the Republican Party’s leaders that they didn’t disown him long ago.
But Trump’s comments about women, in a taped discussion with NBC’s Billy Bush, add a frightening new layer of concern.
We have moved way, way beyond Trump calling women “pigs" and insulting them for their looks. Now we’ve heard him brag about his sexual-assault prowess.
Here’s how the US Department of Justice defines sexual assault: “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities [such] as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”
Any type of sexual contact or behavior without the explicit consent of the recipient.
That most certainly includes grabbing women in the way Trump described.
“When you’re a star,” he said, “they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Nearly as shocking as Trump’s comments: the casual way he made them – and the knowing, admiring way that Billy Bush joined in on the banter.
Also nearly as shocking has been the defense from Trump and some of his supporters about his behavior: that it was just locker-room talk.
Bragging about easy success at committing a crime is just harmless guy talk? Sorry. To many women, the image of unwanted kissing and fondling is chilling. Intimidating. And all too familiar.
Nor is that “locker room talk” harmless. It is demeaning to women, viewing them as no more than objects for men’s sexual gratification. It is a mindset that far too often leads to the fondling and groping that Donald Trump bragged about. And to much worse than that.
This is the state of politics today. We had already lost the willingness to seek bipartisan solutions to the challenges of the day. Now, as one of our democracy’s examples of leadership, we have a self-described sexual predator.
All around the country, hundreds of high school students interested in learning about their nation’s policy challenges are studying and debating. And they’re learning to argue both sides, the affirmative side in this debate, negative the next.
That’s a good lesson in politics. In bipartisanship. In understanding both sides of an issue. It’s good training for a future politician.
Sadly, I find myself hoping that’s not the career our grandson pursues.