Scarring Them Early

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The Internet Didn’t Hold Back on Donald Trump Jr.’s Halloween Tweet About Socialism (Time)

Scars come in many forms, and like so many other things in life, too many people mistakenly believe (deliberately so, in the case of some assholes) that any scar that can’t be seen isn’t “real” or what have you. Non-visible scars aside, I picked up three prominent scars in the first few years of my life: A long gouge on my hip as the result of hernia surgery (which happened so early in my life that I can’t really remember what caused it), a smaller line on the tip of my left index finger when I sliced it open on a freshly-opened can lid (which I cut off in pursuit of an early crafting project), and a longer, jagged mark on my right calf that I got from falling as I was trying to climb over a chain-link fence. I’m not sure how my list of early-years scars compares to other people’s, but I’m sure that it’s less of a testament to any childhood derring-do I migh have had, and more just physical evidence of how much of a klutz I’ve always been throughout my life.

Still, even though I recall some details of how I got those last two scars, the most vivid memories I have of them are how horrified Mom was after each one, and how I was rushed to the hospital to get stitched up each time. They certainly weren’t pleasant experiences, and I don’t feel any sense of pride when I talk about them, but I can accept them as part of what I would consider normal childhood activities. Maybe I became too cautious about physical danger as a result of those scars (if I did, it was probably because I didn’t want to upset Mom again), but at least I learned some lessons from the mistakes I made back then.

Perhaps I remember the mental, emotional and spiritual scars of my early years much more vividly than the physical scars just because they happened in my mind, so there’s an issue of proximity there, but so many of the scars I got back then weren’t part of a normal childhood. They were given to me by people — other children as well as adults — simply because they wanted to hurt me, because I didn’t conform to their idea of the person I “should” be. Even back then, I could tell that I was being treated unfairly, and the scars from those incidents haven’t healed any better than the ones on my hip, finger and calf. I was certainly in the wrong sometimes back in the day, and I would never dare to call myself any kind of angel (then or now), but I suffered a lot of wounds back then that no one should ever have to suffer.

A lot of the focus on Trump Jr.’s Halloween tweet has been on whether or not its philosophical underpinnings accurately represent economic and societal structures, and there’s certainly a lot to be said about that. What galled me the most about the tweet, though, is its cruelty, and how similar it feels to the ways that adults tried to scar me when I was younger, to try to make me instinctively recoil from something that I lacked the capacity to understand. Given the dearth of understanding about socialism in the American populace at large, the lessons we can learn from this tweet extend far beyond how children learn to form ideas around certain words or concepts, and could explain a lot of modern political messaging.

First of all, as much as I’m in favour of working to help explain complex concepts in simpler language — something I certainly need to get better at — I’m not sure if the complexities of capitalism and socialism can be reduced to language that a three-year-old can understand, even a three-year-old attending the best private pre-schools money can buy (as I’m sure Trump Jr’s daughter is). Applying those philosophical concepts to the “real world” is yet another hurdle to cross, since America’s economic and political systems aren’t purely capitalistic, just like the Western European countries being ruled by democratic socialist governments aren’t purely socialist.  Even if such simplifications existed, and were accurate enough to be considered reliable, the additional limitations of a single tweet’s character limit pretty much renders the possibility of anything approaching accuracy completely impossible.

In that respect, to pay so much attention to Trump Jr.’s tweet can seem excessive, especially when there’s a significant likelihood that the tweet was meant as a joke. At the same time, though, not only does its content hit too close to home for me, since it forces me to recall some of the experiences I had when I was younger, but it feels much more personal. Part of that has to do with Trump Jr. targeting the message of his tweet to his daughter, who appears in her Halloween costume in the tweet — forcing us all to look at her and think, “Here’s the young child whose candy he’s going to take” — but part of it also has to do with recognizing how many parents likely “teach” their children falsehoods in such a callous way.

At the risk of lingering too long on the problems with that tweet’s oversimplifications, the notion of a child giving half their candy to another kid at home isn’t some kind of radical idea if, for example, the kid who stayed at home did so because of medical issues that prevented them from going outside, or because they were recently bullied outside of their apartment and needed recovery time inside for a while. What’s implicit in Trump Jr.’s description of the “kid who stayed home” is an assumption underlying far too much of conservative ideology these days: That people who don’t work must be choosing not to work, and therefore aren’t worthy of any support, public or private. While there was a time when most conservatives would certainly make allowances for people with disabilities, that time seems to be quickly ending (as seen as by the recent actions of their Department of Education and its heartless leader), just as its most hateful members usurp more and more power.

It’s certainly possible to use candy as a tool to teach life lessons to children, and it’s probably a good metaphorical stand-in for currency when it comes to teaching younger children the basics of economics. What Trump Jr. describes in his tweet, though, is no lesson in how taxes support public works, or the income redistribution methods of different economic systems. There’s only one real lesson for his daughter in his “teaching,” and that message is simply to hate socialism. I sincerely doubt, no matter what schools she’s been attending, that she could have any idea of what socialism is, or how it differs from capitalism. All she would understand, if Trump Jr.’s tweet is no joke, is that she had candy taken away because of this thing called “socialism.”

This is, unfortunately, not that different from many Americans’ understanding of what socialism and capitalism are. Even some of the college graduates I know still use the words “socialism” and “communism” interchangeably, and decades of Republican sloganeering have convinced a large percentage of the American population that anything that isn’t pure laissez-faire capitalism — even closing corporate tax loopholes — must be socialist. To be clear, misunderstandings about socialism aren’t exclusive to its opponents, because I’ve certainly met self-described socialists who lacked critical understanding of what they claim to support, but I have no hesitation in pinning the blame for the dearth of economic literacy in this country on the conservative hypercapitalists who’ve been bulldozing our public education system all this time, substituting their sycophantic sloganeering for actual understanding of how the world works.

You can see this in the inane right-wing memes and email-forwards that go around their circles, where everything is reduced to “Bad Person take your money away, Bad Person not give you anything back for your money, Bad Person bad,” no matter what the topic is. (If you’ve never seen these tchotchkes of churlish cheapskatery, the White House just had their press secretary recite one word-for-word to try to distract everyone from a blizzard of bad news earlier in the week.) This kind of thing has certainly existed in right-wing circles for decades, but we’re now seeing what happens when it, and all the environments that allowed it to survive (if not flourish) for too long, peaks at the same time as the Democratic Party implodes from the weight of its own venality.

It took us decades to get to this point, so we can’t expect to solve this problem quickly, but it still needs to get solved. I’d like to think that I might, at the very least, build consensus around the idea that parents who steal their kids’ Halloween candy, just to make their children hate things that they lack the mental capacity to really understand, are assholes. At the rate things have been going in this country, though, I don’t think it’s just children who have to worry about these people taking their candy — or worse — away from them, all in the name of “teaching them a lesson.”

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