The U.S. election campaign took its toll on everyone, my six-year-old son Josh included. He dressed up as Donald Trump for Halloween and was bombarded by political commentary.
“You’re going to start World War Three!” one of his classmates, a Star Wars character, told him, pointing a finger at Josh.
“No I’m not,” Josh said defensively. Wearing a little suit, tie and “Make America Great Again” cap, he turned to me for reassurance.
“Josh isn’t going to start a war,” I reassured Josh’s class during their Grade 1 Halloween party. “It’s just a costume.”
It was just supposed to be a joke, just a funny thing to wear on Halloween. His choice of costume wasn’t a reflection of my political views. My opinion was completely beside the point.
But he got a similar reaction from parents while trick-or-treating. “You’re Donald Trump, I’m not sure if I should give you any candy,” Josh was told again and again by neighbours. He stood there in his outfit, bag open, unsure of whether he was actually being turned away on Halloween. Eventually, each homeowner chuckled and gave Josh candy.
It was my kids’ first lesson about politics: whether we agree with each other or not, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and discussing your political views doesn’t always make for appropriate conversation.
But there has been so much to discuss. Throughout the campaign, which seemed to drag on for a lifetime, my kids have asked lots of questions about the world around them. Why do they say Hilary Clinton lied? Why does Donald Trump want to build a wall? Will there be another war? What happens when one of them loses?
At every turn, it was an opportunity for me to try to explain why we are lucky to live in a democracy, and in Canada, more specifically.
“Everyone has their own views, and Trump and Clinton went on TV sharing their views and trying to get people to vote for them,” I said.
I told them about the popular vote and the electoral college, explaining how each state has a certain number of points, and whichever person wins the states worth the most points becomes president.
“And unlike in other countries, where some groups will try to take power violently, in Canada and the United States, we make peaceful transitions from one leader to the next.”
I was quite proud of myself, using the election to teach them something valuable, to make them feel safe, to appreciate why we are so lucky to live in a democracy.
In the end, being only six and seven years old, they were mostly concerned about how the U.S. election would affect them, the popularity of their costume choice at school and the amount of candy they received this year.
Even though Hilary Clinton didn’t win and America’s path forward seems shaky, I like to think they are growing up during a time in which they will take it for granted that a woman is just as likely to be president as a man. They are learning that it’s ok to disagree and still be friends with your classmates and neighbours. But maybe next year we’ll avoid any political costumes on Halloween. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so funny anymore. But perhaps that’s just my opinion.