A lot happened this weekend, but among everything else, people were talking smack about President Donald Trump’s son, 10-year-old Barron Trump, online. And it’s not OK. It’s not OK no matter what your party affiliation is. It’s not OK because we’re parents. And it’s not OK because we’re people.
Various people made fun of Barron online this weekend on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’m not going to repost any of their comments here, because I am a strong believer in avoiding lashon hara (slanderous speech). But their comments were cruel and jaw-droppingly inappropriate—comments conjecturing on his intellect, his psychiatric state, and his appearance. People who posted and shared these comments are complicit in an era of meanness I fear we have all too willingly entered into.
It was too much for Chelsea Clinton, who posted online in Barron’s defense. “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does—to be a kid,” she wrote. (She added that “Standing up for every kid also means opposing @POTUS policies that hurt kids,” but that statement isn’t what I want to focus on at present.)
To date myself, I was a kid roughly contemporaneously with Chelsea Clinton. And back in the 1990s, I looked at the media treatment of her with her frizzy hair and braces, and felt really bad for her. And, I’ll add, I felt pretty lucky. I felt lucky that personally, I wasn’t being stared at by millions. My early teen years were pretty horrific. I got a haircut that, accompanied by my flat chest and proclivity for ugly clothing, made me look like a boy—an angry, not particularly attractive boy. I had a constellation of zits on my face and braces that look like the scaffolding for a building—plus headgear at night!—but at least no one was taking pictures of me and putting them in Newsweek.
Today, social media gives all of us a potential audience of thousands at a keystroke. “Going viral” is no longer a disease, but instead an opportunity many covet. We can post our bitchy remarks and get rapid-fire approval and “thumbs up” without ever having to consider the impact that those statements have on actual living beings. And the things we post online, as we continuously remind our own children, last forever.
Take a step back.
Don’t post insulting garbage about Barron Trump. His father is President, but he’s a kid, and surely he deserves a little more kindness from people. I was going to say “especially from parents,” but that’s not true. We were all, parents or not, kids once. We all know what it was like to be awkward and uncomfortable and hormonal. Have pity. Be kind.
And while we’re at it, let’s take this a step further: While gratuitous personal attacks on political figures with whom we disagree are funny, they also reflect poorly on the speaker or the sharer. There are people in power now whose ideals I despise. But I say this: Let’s take these people to task on their ideals, not their clothing or the “hotness” of their spouse or their hair. Let’s talk substance, not crap. Let’s stop being complicit in dumbing down the conversation. Let’s not complain about people being unkind and characterize our own cruel remarks or reposting of memes as “just a joke.”
Let’s make a conscious effort to get smarter. Let’s make a conscious effort to get kinder. If not for ourselves, then for our children.