From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
For the Girls
by Hillary Jordan
I commit to take action because I don’t want my two young nieces growing up with Donald Trump as their teacher.
Abigail and Penelope were born six weeks apart in the halcyon spring of 2016, when the idea of a Trump presidency was almost universally considered a joke. We had a thoughtful, mature statesman in the White House and another one, a woman, running to succeed him. It seemed not just possible but likely that she would smash that most adamantine of glass ceilings; that my nieces and their generation of girls would know from their earliest awareness that they could one day hold the highest office in the land. Perhaps they might even assume, until they were schooled otherwise, that the President of the United States was always a woman.
It’s not hard to imagine what their assumptions will be if Trump stays in power for another three or seven years. Let’s start with the general character lessons he’ll teach them by example: that it’s okay to mock, malign, and threaten anyone who disagrees with them; to reject inconvenient truths and invent their own alternative facts; to demand loyalty without giving it in return; to point fingers and shift blame. Then there are the specific falsehoods and subversions: the press and the FBI can’t be trusted. Climate change is a hoax. All Muslims are the enemy. White supremacists are “very fine people.”
But as appalling as those lessons are, it’s the education Trump will give my nieces about the world they’re entering, and their place in it as women, that frightens me most. From him, they’ll learn that their primary value lies in being pretty, large-busted, and acquiescent. That their bodies are disgusting — when they breastfeed, when they menstruate, when they’re anything but model-thin. That their reproductive choices are not their own to make. That a man’s word will always carry more weight than theirs, just as a man’s desires will always override whatever they want or don’t want. The longer Trump has to seed those ideas, the more normalized and pervasive they will become.
Their parents and I will try to teach Abigail and Penelope otherwise, of course. We’ll assure them they’re the equal of any man, beautiful in and of themselves, worthy of success and recognition. We’ll tell them they mustn’t believe what President Trump says, because he’s a bad man and a liar. Perhaps they’ll believe us, for a time. But inevitably, there will come a day when they ask, “Then how did he get to be the president?” And what do we say then?
If we’re honest, we’ll say, “Because we let him be.” Oh, we can try to blame the Russians, GOP gerrymandering, voter suppression, or what have you, but the fact remains that this vile, unfit man was elected on our watch, and someday Abigail and Penelope will figure that out.
The only thing that will make that day bearable is if we can also say, “And then we got rid of him.”
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Hillary Jordan is the author of the novels Mudbound and When She Woke, as well as the digital short “Aftermirth.”