Being an educator in the era of Trump… Or, how do you explain to students that the national “Role Model-in-Chief” is everything that you don’t want them to be.

As educators we have a commitment to learning, the acquisition of skills and knowledge, to telling the truth, and yet we don’t want to distribute despair in our classrooms.

The scary problem is that Donald Trump is very much America, its tragic past, its dangerous present, and hopefully not its future. Perhaps he is not the “America the Beautiful” that Ray Charles sang so movingly about; but he is still America, at least the ugly parts. The American Slavery part. The decimation and destruction of Native American people’s Nations part. The Chinese Exclusion Act part. The World War 2 Japanese-American Internment Camps part. The treating of a hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands like they are not Americans, or even human beings part. And although a case could be made that he was voted into office by the moral and mental equivalent of the ‘walking dead’; they were indeed living and breathing US citizens who cast millions of votes for what is essentially a leadership obscenity. Donald Trump, for now and forever is very much a part of America and American history.

I struggled with this at first, perhaps I was lost in my musical memory of hearing both the Ray Charles rendition of “America”, and Marvin Gaye’s spiritually soulful treatment of the Star Spangle Banner at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game (check it out on YouTube).

But the truth is, that the election (and present successful process of normalization) of Donald Trump is not an aberration, mistake, misstep, an event invented by Russian espionage, the ‘Bernie or Bust’ crowd, or the lack of effectiveness of his opponent’s 2016 campaign. The elevation of Donald Trump to the US presidency, was an American aspirational choice.

And although it is so clearly obvious (to at least some of us across the political spectrum), that Mr. Trump is totally unfit to serve in a position that can not only endanger all Americans, but indeed puts the entire world at risk; many US citizens who he has not offended find comfort, or are at least feel comfortable with him as the nation’s leader. We keep hearing about ‘negative polls’, conflicts of financial interest, and ‘flat-out-lies’ coming out of the White House, but where is the ‘tipping point’ of national revulsion; I don’t see us reaching it; we seem to just endure, accept and adjust to the ‘next’ extreme and noxious behavior. What if a principal led a school in the same way that Trump is leading the nation; would there not be a dramatic unified outcry and actionable movement for their removal?

History teaches us that nations (ignorant of history), often make bad choices. Bad and evil people don’t always seize power in a military coup; instead they are often handed the keys to power by a spiritually diminished and morally exhausted populace. The truth is that Trump’s presidency has produced no real surprises (despite the recurring betrayed expectations of the ever hopeful ‘pivoteers’), his entire campaign, from the start, was so unseemly, unworthy, ugly and offensive (to at least some of us); that in a sane and rational world, if he were running against a cadaver, it should have been a landside win, for the cadaver.

As a lifelong educator my natural position is to see the ‘good’ in young people, even when that good is hidden from and ignored by the rest of society, and even, as is often the case, when that good is hidden from the children themselves. The ‘good’ of the 2016 elections has so far eluded me; we now simply careen, on a daily basis, from one piece of bad news to another; much of it affecting people who look like me.

It took me some time and difficulty to arrive at the horrible conclusion that Mr. Trump represents America. Difficult because it pushes against everything I want to believe about this nation in particular, and human beings generally. Sadly this revelation goes against my internal compass that always points in the direction of hopefulness.

That means I am not buying the “discontented and disconnected White rust belt voter” movement that various news media outlets claim propelled him to victory (did all of those millions of votes come from uneducated and unemployed Whites?) And as he puts into place policies that do great harm to poor and working class White Americans; there is no popular White Lives Matter rebellion against him because economics was never the reason for their support of Trump. It was his bigotry, the incendiary and exclusionary rhetoric, the walling in and walling off of people of color; the call for a return to a safe to hate era in America, where Blacks, Muslims, Latinos, Women, Gays and Lesbians knew their places and stayed in them.

Mr. Trump like many evil demagogue leaders before him, has strategically found that ‘sweet collective social-psychological spot’ of combining racist-supremacy nostalgia, the fear of a loss state of privilege, ignorant prejudice, selfishness and a lack of compassion as the sound foundation to launch and lead a toxic political movement. Hitler did not invent anti-Jewish feelings in Germany, he simply cultivated them, and made them an instrument of official state philosophy, policies and practices. If your marriage was failing, or your kid’s underperformed in school, it was the fault of the Jews; if you were dumb as a brick and unemployed, it was the fault of the Jews. The origin and cause of every societal and personal problem can be reduced and found in the presence of the despised ‘other’. Trump did not invent ‘Trumpism’, he simply taped those feelings that were covered over by the US international PR campaign to convince the rest of the world that bigotry, racism, and the foundational elements of fascism, are not part of the American character; well that cover has been blown by the election of Trump, and the world has taken notice.

Trump is an immoral leader, but he is not silly or stupid, even as his own (well situated to know) Secretary of State seems to have described him as “moronic”. He knows what he is doing. In fact he knows that he could verbally insult, brutalize and continue to berate an emotionally traumatized and suffering African-American widow of an American soldier killed in combat and get away with it. Mr. Trump is fully aware that the widow, her children and her fallen in battle husband constitute the nation’s marginalized ‘other’ in the present American zeitgeist; the military service, death and suffering notwithstanding.

And like those coal miners he has fooled into thinking that he can change international economic energy reality; Mr. Trump has successfully mined the sewerage soul of America, found the worse attributes that will offer some false temporary relief to those Americans who have come to hate fairness, progress and change. He is their only path to feeling what they believe as being ‘wholeness’; and that is to: beat up the weak, deny the disenfranchised, belittle those who don’t have the capacity to defend themselves, hate and despise the (Muslim, Latino, LGBTQ, Black) other, than ‘us’.

Mr. Trump knows America, because he is that large part of America that lies to itself and the world, a prejudice laced petulance masquerading as patriotism, reciting ‘Liberty and Justice for all’, while placing limits and conditions on the ‘all’. They are like roaches who go into hiding when a type of Obama-like light of decency enters the public square. And now it is their time, to make America ugly, and ungrateful again for her natural gifts and diverse people resources.

It is easy for educators to teach about despotic and despicable national leaders in other nations and time periods. But what do we do when that aspiring despot and already despicable national leader is in our own nation, and in our present time? The dignity, graciousness and class of the Obamas made it real easy for us educators; we could simply and safely say to all students, regardless of color: just follow the example, and be like Barack and Michelle Obama, and chances are that you will grow up to be a good and decent person! But this…

In any event, I am glad I am retired because this is one of those familiar moments when I probably would get into trouble! High school students don’t miss much, and are just going to come straight out and ask you, “What do you think about Donald Trump Mr. Johnson?” Or, “you have a picture of President Obama in your office, where is Trump’s picture?”, and expect an honest answer!

“Well, sit down young folks and let me explain…”

Or, maybe you don’t explain:

A “got jokes” very intelligent student at Phelps ACE high school mentioned to me once in the hall: “Yo Mr. Johnson, I see you have a picture of Justice Sotomayor up in your office; where is Justice Clarence Thomas?” As he offered his best rendition of the hungry smiling cat eyeing the bird look. But a principal must be quick on their feet. “Not enough wall space for all nine judges”; I responded, “and don’t you have an AP history class this period… goodbye.” Sometimes in education you just let your reading assignments, bulletin board pictures and preterition tell the story!