For years, Donald Trump has promoted his personal brand with ostentatious displays of “quality”: towering buildings, gold-plated faucets, tall girlfriends, private jets, and… model children. Trump continually points to his kids and declares them yet another one of his triumphs. In newspaper interviews he brags about his “hot” daughter. On TV, he parades them through his boardroom as savvy dealmakers. And, during the nomination race, he has put them everywhere, always in the foreground.
Most politicians use their children as generic props for TV spots and photo ops. But the Trump children are spokesmen, surrogates, campaign strategists and fundraisers. Throughout the campaign the candidate has repeatedly bragged about their looks and their abilities, suggesting their apparent success is an important reason he is qualified for the presidency.
Trump’s newly appointed vice presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, dutifully added the gold leaf to this campaign plank on Thursday night. In his speech to the Republican National Convention, he declared Trump’s “amazing children” are the “true measure of the nominee”. As with all Trump claims, a necessary and reassuring “believe me” was added when he also promised “you can’t fake good kids.”
Like almost everything else associated with this campaign, this argument is as doubtful and meaningless as a Trump University diploma.
To begin with, of course you can fake good kids. Trying to fake good kids is the primary goal for all parents, everywhere. When they’re babies, we constantly wipe their faces to hide the fact they’re actually snot-filled, pabulum-spewing demons. When they’re older, we brag to the neighbours about their finger-painted Mother’s Day card to avoid any discussion of the shaved cat and traumatized dog. This goes on through our entire lives, until we’re trying to convince the nurse, as she spoonfeeds us porridge, that Johnny hasn’t visited lately because he’s “got a promising startup” (and not because of the court ordered travel ban).
And we really have no idea if Trump’s five kids are triumphs of parenting or not. The only two data points we have are: they have excellent dentists and the ones allowed to speak are relatively articulate. Being employed by their father is not an indicator of success; in fact, it suggests the opposite. Being out of jail may be one way to judge celebrity children, but it’s not especially impressive. What else is there? Nothing. Eric Trump might be a real mensch, or he might be the kind of guy who names his biceps—we don’t know.
Besides, by all accounts, Trump didn’t even raise them. During their formative years the three eldest lived largely alone in New York while their father helicopter commuted to his casino properties in Atlantic City. According to Donald Jr, after Trump’s first divorce, he didn’t speak to them for a year. When they were old enough, they were shuffled off to “The Hill” boarding school in Pottstown, Penn. (Ironic motto: “Whatsoever things are true.”) During summer holidays the children were sent to the Czech Republic to live with relatives. They themselves credit their upbringing to Czech grandparents and two Irish nannies, not “dad” or any of his three wives.
Regardless, good kids (or bad) prove nothing. I have known loving parents who raised rotten children and utter trainwrecks who raised angels. We all do. And we all know that you can’t look to someone’s offspring to judge their professional ability. Which is why we don’t bring our child’s report card to job interviews.
Likewise, if we really wanted good parents as political leaders, we’d elect that insufferable mother in the car pool who always brings orange slices and home-made popsicles to soccer practice, or the under-scheduled and over-enthusiastic father who volunteers for every single bloody event in your child’s Grade 3 class.
History is filled with great leaders who were crap parents and vice-versa. Winston Churchill neglected his son Randolph, who grew up to be a notorious drunk and wastrel. And 13th U.S. President Millard Fillmore’s daughter Abbie spoke five languages, played three instruments and was a famed and fearless horsewoman—but historians still consider her father to be one of the worst presidents to ever hold office.
But back to Trump. We have been asked, once again, to judge him by the cut of his children’s jib. Don’t. It would be as useful as measuring the length of his inseam or the shape of his skull. Which is all to say, dear reader, for the love of God, stop bragging about your son’s SAT scores and your daughter’s penalty kicks. It doesn’t matter and we don’t care.