We have spilled much ink over Trump’s intemperate and offending comments about women, but there are other issues of grave concern in this election: our children.
As Ben Carson puts it, “There is no job more important than parenting. This I believe.” And so do many, many women who, like myself, identify as New Feminists and regard our children as the most profound work and measure of success in our lives. What is more satisfying, more sought after, more enriching – and more challenging – than launching healthy, successful children into the world?
On June 21, 2016, I attended a unique event: a gathering of Evangelicals in New York City to meet privately with Donald Trump. Originally intended for a few hundred invitees, the gathering grew to 1000, including a handful of Catholics.
I was one of them.
While Trump addressed scores of issues of concern to his audience, I found his comments regarding children remarkable and worthy of focused comment.
Even Trump’s harshest critics concede that Trump’s relationship to his children impresses. “At 69, he’s a father of five and grandfather to eight, and despite three marriages – two of which ended in tabloid frenzies – he has remarkably strong relationship with all of his adult children.”
So extraordinary is Trump as father, former Presidential candidate Michael Huckabee opened the June 21 meeting with the following observation and question, which I quote in length.
Before we go to the individual questions, there’s something that I want to say to you and ask you to respond to it. Because it’s something that I saw, in a way that most people would not have seen. Because if they weren’t on the stage during the presidential debates and also backstage, they would not have seen what I saw, what Ben Carson saw.
The relationship that you have with your family, the relationship and bond that you have with your adult children, is one of the most admirable I’ve ever seen from any father with children. People can fake it onstage — they can walk out and do a happy family moment — but you can’t fake that backstage, over and over again. What I saw was real.
And it was one of the reasons that I have had no hesitation endorsing you, supporting you, and enthusiastically encouraging people to get behind your candidacy. We’re going to talk about a lot of issues. But I want you to begin today by expressing: What is it about the relationship you have with your children that is so special? What is that bond all about?
Well known to the public, Trump, in fact, has five children: Donald Jr. (38), Ivanka (34), Eric (32), Tiffany (22) and Barron (10). Trump had the first of his three children with his first wife, Ivana Trump – who both supports and advises him in his run for President. Tiffany, Trump had with his second wife, Marla Maples. Says Maples, “He’s a wonderful father; he loves his children.” His youngest son, rising 5th grader Barron, receives the full attention of Trump’s current wife and Barron’s mother Melania. She “makes it clear that her main priority is being a mom. ‘Barron needs somebody as a parent, so I am with him all of the time.’ Although there’s a household staff, Melania says she does not have a nanny” (TIME, Donald Trump, p. 37).
Trump’s adult children are each credentialed and ambitious in their own right. Donald Jr. and Ivanka both graduated from the Wharton School of Business. Eric is a graduate of Georgetown. All three are married – Donald Jr. and his wife Vanessa have had 5 children over the last 7 years and Ivanka and Jared Kusher recently had their 3rd child. The latter family practices an orthodox Judaism that includes observing kosher rules. Tiffany, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, has released a music single “Like a Bird” and aspires to a music career.
All four children are “proud of [Trump] and praise him as a father.”
NO DRUGS, NO ALCOHOL
Trump’s first response to Governor Huckabee’s question at the June 21 Evangelical gathering was light-hearted. “I have really five wonderful children,” adding, “They were all very good students. I better knock on wood when I say all this stuff, because I’ll get a call – ‘Did you know about this?’”
Trump then grew deadly serious.
“[I would say] from the time they were little children – I mean, they didn’t even know what the words meant . . . ‘No drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes,’ always. And it would drive them crazy. They’d say, ‘Dad, stop!’ . . . I’d drum it – Eric can tell you. I’d drum it into them because I’ve seen so many children who are as smart as you can get, the highest IQs, everything else. It’s over because the got hooked on something.”
Trump added, notably distressed, “If my children were hooked on heroin, they wouldn’t be with me now, they wouldn’t be doing well, and they wouldn’t know what’s even happening. Because I’ve seen it. It’s a horrible, horrible drug.”
CHILDREN IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
Trump’s concern for children became increasingly apparent as the June 21 gathering proceeded. Spontaneously, his comments turned to New Hampshire.
“When I won New Hampshire, I got very, very familiar with the people up there. I talked about it all the time. You see these beautiful valleys, these rivers and streams. It’s so beautiful as a place. And I said, “What’s your biggest problem?” They said, “Heroin.” And I said, “Heroin? It doesn’t match. Heroin doesn’t go with that stream.”
Trump seemed incredulous – and angry.
“We’ve got heroin pouring into this country that’s destroying the fabric of our children’s lives and lives beyond our children . . . We have to help those people get better because they’re so badly hooked. We have to stop this junk from pouring into our country.”
WALL AS A TOOL
Trump has taken endless grief for his call for a wall on the Southern border of the United States. But during his June 21 conversation, Trump brought up the wall several times – consistently in relation to protection of our children.
“Coming in through the southern border are massive, massive, massive amounts of drugs and lots of problems . . . There’s gotta be a border, a line, something to obey.”
Noting that Hillary Clinton herself supported a protective wall in the past, Trump acknowledged the controversy over his plan. But Trump remained adamant that only a wall could demarcate and enforce a border which would slow the flow of drugs into the United States – reinforced in his confidence by people who, he told us, know better than him.
“I received the other day, 60,500 endorsements from the border patrol guards. These are intelligent people who do their jobs, who I got to know by going down to the border, and I said to them, ‘So let me ask you, how important is the wall?’ And they said, ‘So important, Mr. Trump, you have no idea. We need the wall. It’s another tool and maybe our most important tool in stopping what’s happening with drugs and people coming illegally over the border.’ And I said, ‘Good — I feel good about it when you say that. Because if you didn’t say that, frankly, I don’t know what I’d do, because you people know better than anybody.’”
Throughout the June 21 gathering, Trump the candidate, Trump the father, Trump the results-oriented businessman restated his often stated intention: “So we’re going to build a wall.” Trump’s determination clearly stems from his own conviction – whether you agree or not – that “we are really in a very dangerous world right now, and we’re going to have to readjust our thinking very, very rapidly.”
Trump intends to take control of social influences – like drugs – which are impacting us, our children, and our families. He clearly grieves the impact of drugs on our youth – and values the role of parents, like himself, in setting boundaries within which our children thrive. He has provided remarkably effective parenting to his five children, and intends to bring that experience and those values to the Office of the President.
Much about Trump’s style of speech, choice of words and spontaneity still bother me. I personally prefer more polish and less fire in my elected leaders and more empathy and less aggression in men generally. But as Franklin Graham noted in his opening remarks at the June 21 meeting, “We’re all guilty of sin. There’s no perfect person – there’s only one, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ. And he’s not running for President of the United States.”
Certainly the media is doing all it can to expose Donald Trump, the sinner.
But, as I learned on June 21, there is more, much more, to Donald Trump than his sins. His children – and his concern for our children – demonstrate that.