My eleven year old watched the coup at home over Zoom. Her journalism teacher said hello to all the students’ little faces in all their little boxes and then turned on the news. Within a few clips, my daughter caught up on everything I’d been following all day.
She knew that a treasonous mob stormed the US Capitol. (Is storming the right word for it since the Capitol Police let them in and then took selfies with them? A question for another day, perhaps.) She knew a woman involved in the riot got shot in the neck. (Since her class it’s been confirmed the woman is dead.) She knew the President incited the insurrection. (She knew the gravity of this before Twitter did.)
I was in my 9th grade math class when the planes hit the Twin Towers. I wanted my mom and dad. America changed for me that day. As I watched her watch the news, I thought she’d feel America undergo an unsettling shift. So, during a break, I went over and sat next to her and held her hand,
“Hey, sugar. I know this is upsetting. Want to talk this out before class starts again?”
She didn’t need comforting. There’d been no great shift. She looked confused by my distress,
“Isn’t this kind of normal? Doesn’t this happen when we switch presidents?”
Trump has been running for president or been president for most of her remembered life. All she knows is an America diseased with Trumpism. Paramilitary larpers with Confederate flags spread out on American streets is normal. Violent rhetoric from our President is normal. A country always on the brink of fury and fire is normal.
There were still a few minutes before her break ended. I decided I wouldn’t spend it lying to her.
“This doesn’t normally happen when we switch presidents. But you’re right. The racism, xenophobia, and brutality that made this moment happen, and so many of the other moments of the last few years, are normal in America. They’ve always been normal, they’ve just become more obvious to me. I regret it took so long. I am relieved and sad that they are already so obvious to you. Normal doesn’t mean good, you know? Lots of times we need to change normal.”
“I know, Mom.”
Then the break was over and her screen filled with little faces again. She turned away from me so that her face could join them.