But I Don’t Wanna Eat My Peas

by Tom Swift

I have been YouTubing Trump news during dinners with my dog of late and I have questions.

What if the White House press corps showed up but didn’t talk?

What if instead of calling out the president’s lies political pundits didn’t report them in the first place?

What if Congressional leaders met with the president when asked, or when obligated to, but largely remained silent during such meetings?

I am not talking about these persons acting like children. I am wondering what would happen if they acted like adults. Specifically, I am wondering what would happen if they behaved like adults dealing with a child throwing a tantrum.

I do not have children of my own but I have read the Internet.[1] I have also observed skillful parents deal with children during difficult moments, such as public displays in restaurants, the sorts of outbursts children inevitably throw from time to time.

They throw food on the floor.

They use foul language. Or talk in gibberish.

They lie about how much and what food they have eaten.

The skillful parent responds to these deeds by speaking calmly and minimally. If necessary, the parent removes the child from the situation temporarily or, in extreme situations, permanently.

You can sit with us again when you are ready, they say.

While they may lower their vocabulary so as to use words the child understands these parents do not engage in a conversation as though throwing food, yelling, or pounding hands on the table is one of several legitimate ways to communicate. There is a basic level of behavior that must be met otherwise conversation isn’t happening at all.

In fact, you can see it in the parents’ countenance: this is not acceptable and I am not going to litigate the ways in which it is not. Usually in seconds, the child intuits that the current tactics for getting attention aren’t going to work. The situation is diffused. Riblets are again consumed.

What you don’t see is these parents responding to their children’s behavior with a full-throated critique of the ways in which the child has misbehaved and misspoken that the parents then package and broadcast via bandwidth carried to all fifty states and U.S. territories including Puerto Rico.

Of course, you may say, but Trump is, like it or not, the president and the president’s words and actions have greater consequences than do Johnny’s or Suzie’s in a suburban Applebee’s. Of course, you are right. I am not a strategist. This is not a fully formed plan. I have not figured out the best way to deal with the current president so that neither the absurd is amplified nor the dangerous remains unchecked.

Yet something doesn’t seem right about the current collective response. I watch these hyper-articulate, angry commentaries about the ways in which the president has or may have engaged in boorish, deceitful, uneducated, and/or criminal behavior and something makes me cringe.[2]

I had a conversation with friends about this recently and they pointed out that is OK to be angry. We should be angry, they said. Of course. I do not mean to suggest anger should be denied. I don’t know for sure but I bet if you asked that outwardly calm parent, the one who just sat down to one of few meals he or she doesn’t have to prepare this week only to find his or her child painting their hair with garlic mashed potatoes — I bet that mom or dad is angry. Maybe even seething. It’s just that they channel that anger in ways that square with reality: you can only do so much to reason with a person who cannot answer in kind.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were widely praised for their handling of the highly publicized White House meeting in December during which the president said he would own the federal government shutdown over his desire for a border wall. I wonder what would have happened if soon-to-be Speaker of the House Pelosi had said something akin to this: “I am here today and I will meet with you again as the duty of my office calls for. But I must tell you that given what you have been heard on camera to say with respect to your having sexually violated persons of my gender, given your relationship with the truth, and the ways in which you have related to other government officials, I will require that all our meetings be conducted with reporters in the room. In terms of the wall, you have said repeatedly and for years that Mexico will pay for this wall. Please let us know when that check arrives. In the meantime, the nation spoke loudly in November. We have a great amount of work to do on their behalf and we need all available resources to do it. Please let us know when you are ready to help.” Schumer should have sat back on that couch, legs crossed, not with his elbows on his knees, as he did, looking like he could hardly sit still. He should have spoken without uttering words.[3]

Have you ever observed parents who are not skilled at dealing with children in a fit? For me, this always seems to involve a car. I have witnessed this sort of scene at least twice in recent memory: the parent, upon entering or exiting the car, yells at a crying child, strapped in the backseat. Instinctively, you just know this is wrong. Not just because it feels like mild violence; but also as a tactic.[4] The child simply doesn’t understand his or her emotions in these moments and yelling at them for having them serves only to intensify the emotions and the confusion they cause. The child always cries more, and more loudly.

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[1] Parenting Magazine and RaisingChildren.net were especially useful.

[2] Rachel Maddow: the emotion, the sarcasm … I can’t.

[3] You could say that this response would set a precedent; opposing party leaders don’t talk to each other enough, as it is, and this will make things worse. First, I believe if enough adults act like adults conversation is always possible. Second, too bad. No choice here. You can’t accept the unacceptable.

[4] Make no mistake: I can’t fathom a strategy that changes Trump and I do not purport to espouse one here. There is no inner Lincoln to channel. He is who he is. I wonder, though, in the collective response whether we are not legitimizing behavior that does not meet minimum standards. The other day Morning Joe Scarborough talked simply and succinctly, saying that this man is not fit for the office. The resignation in his voice moved more than a mountain of anger.