I had a conversation with my kindergartner yesterday.
I enjoy answering kids’ questions about politics. They get it. It gives me reassurance that we can make our political case — the pro-democracy, pro-future case for a better world — in simple words.
Using simple, direct language is important for everyone. This would work well on cable news.
Sometimes it’s tempting to see the world in shades of grey when the essential line is black-and-white. But with the US political right today, the essential line — the divide from us on core values — is indeed quite black-and-white. Sometimes we have trouble ascribing bad values to the US right and that limits our messages. Try this sometime: talk to kids about climate change, carbon pollution, MAGA, and dark money. Talk about agenda, talk about billionaires, give the story characters. They will get it, and it will make you feel better — it will give you hope.
My kid and I go out for a walk. It’s hot and muggy.
We turn the corner and can see a few blocks. The air is gray and opaque. I pull out my phone, and indeed the AQI is bad. So I get out masks for both of us.
Kindergartner: "Dad, why is the air all cloudy? Why do I have to wear a mask outside today?"
Please sign up for free before continuing
Deep Narrative: A newsletter on public opinion, statistics, storytelling, and trust.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime. These signup forms will disappear once you subscribe.
We start to walk again.
Me: "Well, the air is bad today. And it's because of the people who like Trump. Very rich people make money from selling oil and gas. And oil and gas pollute the air with carbon. They put carbon in the air. And carbon makes the planet hotter, and that leads to forest fires. And that's the smoke you’re seeing now.”
She nods. So I go on:
Me: “And the people that like Trump, the MAGA people, they knew that they were polluting the air. But they wanted to sell oil and gas to make money. That's because they want all the money — and they don't care about us. So they got together and told a lot of lies about carbon pollution, so they could sell more oil and gas and make more money."
K: "Carbon. Is that like carbon dioxide?!?"
Me: "Yeah! How did you learn about that?"
K: "Dad! I learned about that in school. I know all about carbon dioxide." [Good work, school.]
Me: "... Ah, yes.
And it all comes down to money. The Trump people, the billionaires, they did it because they want more money."
K: "But what about them?"
I’m a bit confused by this.
K: "The people who like Trump. They have to breathe the air too. Isn't the bad air bad for them?" [a real quote!]
Me: "Ah! Yes! Good point. You'd think they'd worry about that too, right? But no. A lot of them are very old and they don't care about younger people. And they also think they can just go somewhere else — take all their money and get on one of their planes and go somewhere that doesn't have smoke and bad air."
K: "Somewhere else? Where?"
Me: "Ah, places like New Zealand. Yes, it's crazy, because you're right they have to deal with the bad air too."
K: <thinks> … “I have a good idea! Why don't the Trump people come up with something to sell. Then people can buy it and then the Trump people can have money." [Ha ha. Again, a real quote. Apparently school is teaching them about business too.]
Me: "Good idea! You'd think it would work like that. But no. The people who like Trump1, they want all the money. No matter how much money they have, they want more money. It's like a game to them. And they don't care about us - they don't care if we don't have any money2."
More head nods. I decide to talk about solutions a bit, to point towards change and empower her, after all that.
Me: "What we have to do instead is vote a lot and then all together we can keep them from having all the money. Not to keep them from having any money — they can have some. But if we don't all get together and vote, they'll just try to keep all the money for themselves. And that will have to be you and your brother's generation. You'll have to get a lot of people to vote to stop them.
K: "Us? Vote? So if more people vote to stop the Trump people that will make the air better??"
If you’re interested in more simple, clear messaging about our society, and how to make our future better, Anat Shenker-Osorio has lots of it. Follow her, and tell your political representatives to use direct words about our values, and to coordinate with other members of the Democratic party to use the same words. Simple words are key, and also repetition is key — it is valuable to get many Dems to use the same words on Twitter and TV so voters hear the same words from many sources.
In retrospect, I was probably channeling this thread, along with other things, in what I said:
“So if more people vote to stop the Trump people that will make the air better??"
"people who like Trump” is my usual kids' phrase for Trump supporters, or "MAGA billionaires", or “neofascists”. We can introduce those other words later. But the kindergartners get it with “people who like Trump”. ↩
She can learn about economic activity later. This is simple, and to a first approximation it is correct. ↩