When my 10-year old son asked me if he could stay up to watch the Republican debate last night, exhaustion the next morning was the only thing I thought I had to worry about.
Over the past two months, I've been pleasantly surprised by my sports-obsessed son's recent interest in the election cycle, something I credit his amazing fourth grade teachers with instilling in him. Though I'm the poli-sci major and political junkie who spent a Summer prepping national newscasters for the '96 election, it was his teachers' homework assignment of picking a candidate and studying them through the entire campaign season that convinced my son to turn off SportsCenter and turn on the national news. So when he asked to watch some of the Republican debate, I happily obliged.
Little did I know it would digress into a pissing match so soon. While my son's been studying up on the candidates' positions on climate change, gun control, and education, we turned on the TV just in time to hear Donald Trump discuss the size of his manhood in response to an earlier insinuation by Marco Rubio — because this election cycle, that's how low we're going. In case you missed it, this is how it went down:
"He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands. Are they small hands?
And he referred to my hands — if they are small, something else must be small — I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee you."
As the audience in Detroit's Fox Theater erupted in laughter, my son looked at me uncomfortably. I rolled my eyes and nodded. "Yes," I said. "He's referring to his private parts. And, no, that's not what's supposed to happen in a debate."
But nothing seems to be happening the way it's supposed to this year. All aspects of decorum and dignity appear to be missing. Candidates are slinging insults at each other like nobody's business. And they're spewing hate and vulgarities that make me cringe. It makes me want to cover his ears and have him go back to watching SportsCenter, but I'm not going to do that. This is real life in 2016 and we all need to get used to it.
As the debate raged on, I did a little research and learned that even the earliest campaigns featured crude name calling that focused on the candidates crotches. In 1800, a mere 14 years after the US declared its independence from England, then-Vice President Thomas Jefferson accused John Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." To counter that, Adams's campaign advisers called Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." There just weren't 24-hour newscasts and an Internet to bring up the name-calling on repeat ad nauseam. It all goes to show that what goes around comes around.
I had assumed I could have shown my son that we've made some progress over the past 216 years.