“So, Dad, did you know Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are having a debate tonight?”
“Are we watching it?”
“For the same reasons we don’t watch German porn, or videos about how to treat gangrene.”
“Also because I rented Jungle Book.”
“Trust me—it’s the new one, with the digital high-definition graphical supereffects and stuff. There’s giant snakes and jump scares. We’re talking PG, baby.”
“What do you think they’ll talk about?”
“Oh you know, should Mowgli go live with the other humans, is Shere Kahn’s rage really about revenge or more of a self-destructive Oedipal contrition kind of thing—typical Disney.”
“No, in the debate.”
“Ah, yes. Well, mostly they’ll argue about who is less fit for public office, whose family has done more violence to women, who’s squandered more of other people’s blood and money—typical DC.”
“Is that what politicians usually talk about?”
“They try to impress us when they think we’re listening.”
“I’m not impressed.”
“You’re not their target demographic, my man. You can’t vote.”
“Who are you going to vote for?” (Here the boy sees me roll my eyes.) “If you had to vote for one of them.”
“You mean like, I’m going to get shot if I don’t vote for one of them?”
“Yeah. No. If one of us—” (gesturing now to himself and his brothers, one of whom is practicing Dude Perfect1 tosses with a Gatorade bottle, the other of whom is puzzling over one of those comparative distance problems2 that I just know he’s going to ask me for help with) “—will get shot.”3
At this point I give my answer, quickly followed by my tactical reasoning,4 and the reminder that it was he who steered me into the Strait of Messina.5 He regards me with disgust nonetheless. I feel like I have too quickly expressed a preference after being asked whether I’d prefer to copulate with a warthog or a blobfish.6
“Where are they debating?”
“Before a live studio audience of undecided voters.”
My interrogator winces. His brother stops flipping the Gatorade bottle. His other brother looks up from a chart plotting various permutations of R x T = D. “Wait. You mean there are people who still don’t know who to vote for?”
“Where are these people from?”
“Well I don’t know their street addresses, but I’m confident they are a demographically representative sampling of your fellow Americans.”
My nine year-old explains with exacting if not misguided detail whom he intends to vote for and why, his point being that if a nine year-old kid can figure this out, how freaking hard can it possibly be.
“Dad. How do they not know who to vote for? Can’t they read?”
“Don’t they have a TV?”
“Don’t they have the internet?”
“Are they just real dumb?”
I understand that I have raised intolerant and judgmental children. You can spare me your emails on this point. I try to explain that some people just need more time to make up their minds. “It’s not an easy choice,” I explain.
“But, like, do they think something’s going to change?”
The nine year-old offers some unsubstantiated but likely quite accurate observations about the character and secret machinations of the candidate he hates more than the other one.
“Yeah, I mean, what are they waiting on? For one of those idiots to suddenly stop being an idiot?”
“Guys, I don’t know.”
“Well why do they get to be on TV? Why not get people who actually know something?”
“That would be unfair to the candidates, don’t you think?”
Insert here a cacophony of opinionating about moronic citizens and unfettered access to the ballot and parasitical news media and slavering political candidates, all of it so retrograde I dare not publish it for fear of landing them on some kind of watchlist.
“So what do they talk about when nobody’s listening?”
“You said all the fighting and stuff is because we’re listening, so what do they talk about when we’re not listening?”
“I don’t imagine they talk much at all. They’re too busy planning what they’ll say next time they’re in front of a camera.”
“So they’re like . . . actors?”
“Yes. Exactly. Really unattractive and insincere actors.”
“Well I hope their movie ends soon.”
I offer my children one of those long dramatic southern sighs that was a kind of performance art for my mother. “There’s always a sequel.”
“You got that right.” I wiggle the Jungle Book DVD. “But remakes, on the other hand. . .”7
1 Okay, crash Dude Perfect course: Five white exuberant fun-loving reasonably attractive genuinely nice youth pastor-type bros do increasingly complicated and amazing but relatively safe stunts before increasingly complicated and amazing camera equipment to garner about a zillion followers on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc., and more corporate endorsements than your average Super Bowl champion. There’s also a panda.
2 E.g., if Hillary’s limousine leaves for a Hollywood fundraiser at 3pm and travels at 70 mph, and Donald’s Ferrari sets out after her at 4pm and travels at 120 mph, what time will he run her off the road?
3 The boy anticipating here, see, that I may try to distract him by quibbling over what part of my body, exactly, would be shot, and what caliber and type of bullet, and from what distance, and are there medical personnel standing by and do they have my blood type on hand, and so on.
4 Imagine here a lot of hand-waving about looming recession and historical trends in midterm elections and tax/regulatory trends under divided versus unified governments and several pro hominem references to my political science PhD. Include one really long digression on the series of historical American political choicesa that now force us to choose between a fascistb and a corporatist.c If all of that bores you perhaps you will prefer this summary from the boy, who concludes that direct democracy coupled with unfettered government power is like giving a monkey a machine gun.
a Key among these being the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the 1952 Ray v. Blair Supreme Court decision, and of course a host of major party reforms stemming from the Hubert Humphrey fiasco at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
b This is someone whom: i) we detest, ii) is not a liberal, and iii) condones the use of extra-constitutional military violence against foreign peoples, assassination of domestic miscreants, deportation of ethnic types, and establishment of massive surveillance states. (Any resemblance to our current president should be cross-referenced with condition ii above.)
c Similar to a fascist insofar as governmental control of industrial/financial assets is concerned, but far more focused on maintaining the wealth and prestige of a cabal of inbred elites than on establishing a Manifest Destiny, retaking the Sudetenland, rotating the Wheel of History, etc.
5 Referring here to the vicinity of Scylla and Charybdis, though I totally understand if “Your Mama Don’t Dance” is playing in your head right now.
6 Tbh I didn’t know what this is but my 16 year-old told me to look it up and it really is pretty gross. See for yourself.
7 Yes yes yes, I know, a more artful conclusion to the whole confab would have been for me to direct them to the original by Rudyard Kipling, and draw from this a parallel to the governmental architecture bequeathed to us by our Constitution’s authors and subsequently shat upon, but as a wise speaker once said: the mind can only absorb what the butt can endure, and this whole raising-children-to-be-strangers-in-a-strange-land thing is a slow and methodical process, and besides there was popcorn to be made, and as another wise and equally anonymous quipper once quipped: philosophies only endure where bellies are full.