Let’s go ahead and agree that Barron Trump should be off-limits.
He’s a 10-year-old child and, unlike President Donald Trump’s other offspring, highly unlikely to advise his dad on financial or political matters. He hasn’t behaved in a way that invites judgment or rebuke. He asked for none of this.
We’re not off to a bang-up start. “Modern Family” actress Julie Bowen is catching heat for a series of tweets poking fun at his inauguration demeanor. “Saturday Night Live” writer Katie Rich, a Chicago native, tweeted a tasteless (now deleted) joke about Barron becoming the nation’s first “home-school shooter.”
Chelsea Clinton, the subject of terrible taunts during her White House stint, hopped on Twitter over the weekend to call foul. “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does – to be a kid,” she wrote.
(She also added, “Standing up for every kid also means opposing @POTUS policies that hurt kids,” which critics say muddled her message. But let’s stay on point here.)
We have a long and lousy history of being jerks about presidential kids. Before famously calling Chelsea Clinton “the White House dog,” radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh called Jimmy Carter’s daughter “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country” and later corrected himself, saying he’d forgotten about Harry Truman’s daughter, Margaret.
Congressional aide Elizabeth Lauten stepped down from her Tennessee GOP post in 2014 after ridiculing Barack Obama’s daughters for their perfectly benign behavior at a turkey pardon.
We can do better this time.
We can pause before we poke fun at a kid and ask ourselves what we value. Kindness and empathy toward children should be high on the list.
By many measures, Barron’s life has been, and will continue to be, easy. He is shielded from physical harm. He has access to well-funded, high-performing schools. He will likely never go hungry. When he needs it, he will receive the best medical care available.
If it bothers you that other children don’t have those things, well, it should. It is this nation’s greatest failing that access to education, health care, food and safety is so wildly disparate from one child to the next. But we’d be far better served to invest our energy in solving those deficiencies, rather than tearing down a child whose bloodline shields him from them.
Few of us would have relished the spotlight at age 10 – certainly not the spotlight that accompanies a parent in political office. As Devorah Heitner writes in “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World” (Routledge): “Do you wish there were more pictures of you as a tween? Probably not.”
No more Barron Trump taunts. They’re lazy. They’re mean. They’re counterproductive.
And seriously. A school-shooting joke?
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.