These presidencies — Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (41), Clinton, Bush (43) and Obama — are the 12 administrations I’ve lived through so far. I hope to live through this 13th presidency. Something I want my grandchildren, and other young people, to know about this time in America and this current presidency is a basic truth: This is not normal.
I expect that one day my grandchildren will learn about the term “enemy of the people” as used by Soviet Union dictators Lenin and Stalin, and later by the Nazis. Their enemies of the people were clergy who wouldn’t embrace state-enforced atheism, journalists and other writers, anyone who questioned the government. Such enemies were imprisoned or sent to labor camps.
Trump uses this term to describe American journalists. He writes it in tweets, speaks about it and shouts it at his rallies. “Look at them back there,” he sneers, standing before thousands. “The true enemy of the people,” he shouts, pointing to journalists at the back of the room. His supporters please him by taunting and booing the men and women doing the vital work of the First Amendment of our Constitution. Though this makes journalists feel harassed and unsafe, Trump goes unrestrained and the journalists unprotected. None of this is normal.
Trump hasn’t displayed a knowledge of history, but I bet he remembers Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Even Khrushchev denounced Lenin and Stalin’s use of the term “enemy of the people.” In 1956 he said, “The formula ‘enemy of the people’ was specifically introduced for the purpose of physically annihilating such individuals.”
In their private lives, some of our presidents have been involved in shameful behavior. But publicly, they’ve generally followed presidential norms, choosing respectful words. Most schools across America have anti-bullying programs, but this president dishonors the FBI and Department of Justice officials, calling them scum. There’s nothing normal about that. And they aren’t words that children should hear from an American president.
I have a memory from my early high school years. I was at home sick, stretched out on the living room couch watching TV. The show I’d been watching ended and a presidential press conference began. I didn’t have the energy to walk across the room to change the channel or shut off the TV. (No remote controls at that time.) I hadn’t expected what ended up happening: I relaxed into watching and listening while President Kennedy answered journalists’ questions. I found it interesting and even enjoyable. Typical of our presidents, Kennedy wasn’t fond of press coverage. Despite that, he had an average of one press conference every 16 days.
The world has known fondness between ally leaders, such as between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. But Trump stunned us with his talk of fondness for dictator Kim Jong-un. He rules North Korea using torture, starvation, public executions and slave labor. But Trump proudly shared with us: “He wrote me beautiful letters, and we fell in love.” And repeatedly he tells us, “I am a very stable genius.” Children hearing those words must be told: This is not normal.
In 2017, the Women’s March was focused in Washington, D.C., but smaller rallies and marches took place in cities all across America. I was at the Trenton, N.J., rally and march, where I proudly listened to my daughter and other religious women leaders inspire the large enthusiastic gathering. In spite of the loud cheers and applause, my grandson Tobias slept in my arms. Later, as we marched, I carried a placard proclaiming: “My grandchildren deserve better” — a message for all our country’s children. They deserve the chance to be surprised by enjoying a presidential press conference, by hearing questions answered with true facts — the only kind there are. They deserve to be inspired, to have a model for decency, topped off with a touch of some truth-telling and devoid of name-calling. A belief in the science of climate change would be awesome. Oh, for that day when we get to say to the kids: “Okay. You can listen now.”
Ms. Tomaszewski lives in Laurel.