When I was 11-years-old, my elementary school sponsored a fieldtrip to Washington, D.C. as an educational civics lesson. The trip included tickets to Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, a tour of the White House, and the possibility of meeting The Gipper himself. Most of my friends announced immediately that they would be making the trip from California — it was that kind of school. My mom and dad were not that kind of parents, though.
Being liberal minded hippies, my parents discussed the prospect of their fun loving and perpetually barefooted child travelling alone (albeit chaperoned) into the Republican world of corruption and excess. They were against the idea from the beginning as an “extravagance” for elementary school. Even more so, it was late 1980 before the economics began to trickle down. (My parents are retired now and the only promised trickle that ever caught up with them is the one that is draining their social security and Medicare.)
Not fully cognizant of the value of the dollar at the time, I was crushed by their insensitivity over the mere costs of a cross-country airline ticket and five days’ lodging in the nation’s capital. The PTA flyer called the trip “bargain priced” — a phrase I learned quickly to insert into any conversation.
In the grocery store, I questioned whether the things I did not like were indeed, bargain priced. When my dad filled up the car with gas, I mused about how he could save money by looking for stations where fossil fuels were sold at bargain prices. Even my favorite trips to Shaw’s Ice Cream became comparative attempts in value against a trip to Washington, D.C. — trying to convince my parents that foregoing a double scoop of Rocky Road could lead to a round-trip flight to the east coast.
The trip became a source of nightly debates at our dinner table, where I honed my skills in persuasive arguments, vocabulary, and logic. I intended to be on that plane to Washington, D.C. and set a goal to contact every family member to raise funds and made abundant promises of help around the yard and house.
On Friday, I watched and reminisced as Donald Trump cavorted with the White House press corps’ children. Billed as a Halloween event, the 70-year-old Trump acted with the manners of an insensitive brat as he hosted reporters’ kids in the Oval Office. Instead of treating the children as sensitive, impressionable, and innocent young Americans, Trump treated them to his usual barrage of harassment, mocking, and egotistically self-serving boasting.
During the short gathering and as one little girl cried, Trump managed to initiate a few life-long self-esteem complexes, attack the free press, and nearly convince the kids that their parents were bad people. He took every opportunity to insult the nearby parents and actually compared himself to the children in how they and he were treated. It was difficult to ascertain who acted more childish in the few minutes in the Oval Office, but Trump likely won…tiny hands down.
Friday’s Halloween episode was not scary because of any costumes the children visiting Trump were wearing, but because of the terrifying orange clown sitting behind the desk. Watching Trump use a group of impressionable kids — in the midst of their most important formative years — to satiate his egoistic drive for supremacy was terrifying for any parent to see.
If I were choosing among Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, or Ronald McDonald Trump to babysit my children, I would send Trump to the casting center for “Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue” and roll the dice with one of the other three.
I have always been the kind of parent who encourages my children to take an active role in their education, politics, and worldview development. Until 2017, I would have supported any kind of trip to visit a state house, Congress, the White House, or an inauguration. With the current regime and state of political leadership in America, that — unfortunately — has changed. Until 2021, the idea of any child having any contact with Donald Trump or his toxicity that permeates Washington makes me cringe.
I never did get to meet Ronald Reagan or attend his inauguration. My parents finally broke down and decided it would be safe enough for me to brave Washington under the watchful eyes of a best friend’s parents. However, all of the available spots had been filled, and my permission slips were a few days too late.
Looking back, I would have liked to have met President Reagan — if the opportunity had arisen for a group of kids from Ophir Elementary School. At least President Reagan would not have insulted my parents in front of me. I believe he would have exhibited enough dignity and tact associated with his office to not drag my friends into his own childish battles, denigrate our families, or comment about our size or weight. The trip would have been the thing of dreams instead of the modern version of a nightmarish treat Trump offered his visitors on Friday.