Every other Wednesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Wyble Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.Chelsea Clinton and I are basically the same age, which means that her awkward adolescence in the White House paralleled my own equally awkward, though more obscure, adolescence. I always felt a little bit bad for Chelsea, who’d made no choice about being in the public eye yet suffered through all the media scrutiny because of her parents. Fast forward a couple of decades, and Chelsea Clinton is on stage again, representing her mother as the family bids for another term as head-of-stage. Of course, in the intervening years, Chelsea has made her own career and family, but at the same time, she’s benefited from being a Clinton; the same surname that brought undeserved criticism in her adolescent years pays off in influence and wealth for her entire life. One doesn’t need to search too hard on the internet to find critiques of both presidential hopefuls, as parents, politicians, and people.The same can be said of Ivanka Trump, who’s taken her share of the spotlight over the years because of her famous father, that other presidential hopeful. As Michelle Cottle of The Atlantic writes in “How Chelsea Beat Ivanka at Being a Candidate Daughter,”
The Chelsea-Ivanka comparisons were unavoidable. Despite the gulf in tone and message of the two conventions, the candidates’ daughters served an identical purpose: to reassure people that their parents are warm, decent, trustworthy, lovable humans who in no way resemble their ugly caricatures. Plus, when their parents aren’t locked in mortal combat, Chelsea and Ivanka are chums.
Cottle determines Clinton as the winner because of her specificity; though lacking in the Trump charisma, she provided more intimate details that humanize Hilary Clinton more than Ivanka’s general inspirational sentiments did for her father.What’s interesting to me in the competition between the Clintons and the Trumps is the expectation about the relationship between being a parent and being a president. Cottle highlights the distinction she sees between the candidates’ daughters because she, as well as most of us watching, think it matters how these grown-up children represent their parents. In reality, I see almost no connection between either of these families and my own; the chasm of wealth, privilege, and celebrity culture is simply too wide for most ordinary Americans to imagine.
Yet we expect the candidates’ offspring to make them seem relatable, personable. One doesn’t need to search too hard on the internet to find critiques of both presidential hopefuls, as parents, politicians, and people. Their kids, whose names serve as a passport to privilege, would do themselves and the whole family a tremendous disservice if they appear less-than-enthusiastic about their parents. The dynastic implications are hard to dismiss in either case.
I think we value these family portraits, however forced, because we still believe that children reflect their parents. Good parents raise good children (or so we assume), and in the world of American capitalism, that means financially successful. It doesn’t hurt that both Chelsea and Ivanka provide grandchildren for the cause, as well. We want to believe that our presidential choice shares our values when it comes to future generations, however unlikely that is in reality. There is certainly something to be said for leaders having their houses in order; it’s why children from multiple marriages, divorce, and marital infidelity come up as character issues for our candidates.
We should be suspicious of leaders who cannot keep the faith within their own families, demonstrate good character, and develop it in their children. We should be gracious in recognizing that leaders are people, too, but at the same time, we must acknowledge patterns of unrepentant sin as deeply problematic. We should also be graceful in remembering that God gives children free will, too, to be better and worse than their parents. Perhaps we care so much about the children these presidential candidates have raised (or hired others to raise) because we know we will be held accountable to our own children for the choice we make at the ballots.