Last night’s debate offered nothing new for voters. It was slightly more civil than the previous debate, but that’s mostly thanks to muted microphones. Someone must have explained to Donald Trump that shouting while his mic was off would make him look foolish. Well, more foolish. When Trump declared himself “the least racist person in the room,” he looked and sounded pretty foolish. The only way Trump could be the least racist person in a room would be if he were the only person in a room. Like, maybe, a jail cell. He could be the least racist person in a solitary jail cell. And I hope he gets that opportunity.
Plenty of people should face imprisonment over the policy and practice of separating children from their parents at our southern border. It’s bad enough on its own, but it’s worse because this administration failed to practice the basic record keeping that would have made it possible to reunite these children with their parents. Nearly 550 children are now in limbo and at the mercy of an American government that essentially kidnapped them and locked them away.
Trump claims this is fine: “They are so well taken care of. They’re in facilities that were so clean,” he said at the debate. It is not terribly surprising that a man with Trump’s parenting skills would assume that all children need to thrive is a clean space. He was, by all accounts, thoroughly uninvolved in his own children’s lives until they reached adulthood, at which point he began to relate to them as employees. Ivanka is a possible exception to this, but the way he talks about his oldest daughter is cringe-worthy at best, creepy at worst. Trump and his cronies like to give Biden a hard time about his hands-on parenting style. They don’t understand why a man would openly demonstrate such affection for his children, particularly his male children. Just this week, Twitter was filled with an image of Biden embracing his adult son and kissing him on the cheek. The person who posted the photo asked if the affection was “appropriate.” The implication is that it was not.
Trumpworld is not an affectionate place.
But there is no starker illustration of the difference between Trump and Biden than the way they talk about children and fatherhood. Trump has been trying and failing to take Biden down with an unsubstantiated accusation involving Biden’s son Hunter. Biden won’t take the bait. Not only does he refuse to engage in the discussion, he refuses to distance himself from son. Even more revealing, Biden refuses to attack Trump’s children. He could. All three of his eldest children were caught up in the Trump Foundation scandal in which Trump is accused of using charitable donations for personal profit. Don Jr. met with Russian operatives in an effort to sway the 2016 election. Yet Biden never points to this when Trump attacks his son. Why not?
I believe it’s because Biden understands how much the bonds between parent and child really matter. In Biden’s world, you don’t go after a man by attacking his children, even his adult children. It’s too low a blow. In Biden’s world, the connection between parent and child matters more than scoring political points. Biden is not afraid to face his children’s shortcomings. He admits that Hunter Biden struggled with addiction, but he refuses to express any disappointment about this. Instead he says, “He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.” Contrast that to the story about Trump visiting Don Jr. in college and knocking him to the ground because he didn’t like the way his son was dressed. The Trumps deny this, but the story has been corroborated. Regardless, you get the feeling that there is nothing Biden’s children could do to make their father turn on them. Conversely, it’s easy to imagine Trump throwing his children to the wolves if it would help him politically or financially.
When it comes to fatherhood, Trump and Biden could not be more different. That is why, when Biden speaks about the 545 children still separated from their parents, he does so with real emotion. You can hear the pain in his voice. This is a man who knows what it feels like to have his children snatched from him. In 1972 his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his son Beau died from cancer. He understands how devastating the loss of a child can be on a parent. He also understands the real pain and anguish experienced by children when they lose a parent. He watched his sons struggle after their mother’s death, after all. His empathy is palpable and real.
Trump is the opposite. He expresses no empathy. In fact, his response is to insult the parents for bringing their kids here in the first place. Never mind that these parents were just hoping for a better life. Never mind that many were fleeing unspeakable violence and poverty. In Trumpworld, none of that matters. He doesn’t care about the parents. He doesn’t care about the children. As long as they have a “clean” place, he figures they’ll be fine. There’s no need for parental love or guidance in Trumpworld. It’s kind of sad, really. It’s pretty clear that Trump never received affection from his own father and so he never gave affection to his sons. But none of that excuses the deplorable treatment of these children and parents who may never find each other now. Nothing can undo the damage this administration has inflicted upon these families. It is unforgivable.
Forget the bungling of the pandemic. Forget the economy. Forget the winks and nods to right supremacist terrorist groups. Forget cozying up to dictators. Forget tax policy. Forget health care. Everything any voter needs to know can be found in the way these men talk about children and parenting and family. For Biden, these things are sacred. For Trump, they are interchangeable, expendable, and a commodity he can trade for power. If I knew nothing else about these men, this would be enough for me to be secure in casting my vote for Biden. It’s a matter of character. One man has it; the other does not.