What To Do When Your 7-Year Old Cheers ‘Trump’ In An Arab Neighborhood?
Like many parents, I wanted my 7-year-old son to witness the Women’s March to protest the new Trump administration. Aside from the historic value of the extravaganza, I imagined he might not have the opportunity to see many mass protests once our dictatorial, thin-skinned president stifles dissent in the name of “law and order.”
But my wife vetoed our plans. She feared that the massive crowds posed a danger to our 47-pound son. So while she marched in a pink Pussyhat with her friends January 21, I took my boy, along with another father-and-son tandem, to wander around Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, which happens to be one of New York City’s oldest Arabic neighborhoods. After a lunch of slow-roasted lamb and clay oven baked bread at the Yemen Café — “serving… exotic home flavor since 1986” — we picked up salted pistachios, green olives and dried Syrian apricots at a local market. The store displayed a “Refugees Welcome” poster in its window, featuring an illustration of a anxious-looking bearded man sheltering a toddler in his coat — a sign of heightened anxiety, and resolute dissent, in this and many other immigrant communities.
And just about then, my rambunctious second-grader, who relishes irritating his father to test boundaries, broke into an unsettling chant, along with his equally spirited classmate: “Don-ald Trump, Don-ald Trump, Don-ald Trump,” they roared in unison, sounding like rabid football fans cheering the quarterback who just threw the winning touchdown pass.
It was not the time or the place for rebellion.
He might as well have gone to an Orthodox neighborhood and belted out the Nazi anthem, “Deutschlandlied.” And this was before Trump signed another executive order to ban immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
I took my son by the collar, crouched down to eye level and shot him a “This is serious” stare. I explained in a stern voice that Donald Trump created fear in this neighborhood, so stop repeating the president’s name right this instant. As I loudly lectured my son, I heard audible protests from a parked black Camaro with open windows a few feet away. A man with a baseball cap and long ”Wayne’s World”-style sandy hair got out of his car and piped up, “I think Donald Trump is the best.”
I didn’t appreciate the Trump fan’s unsolicited counter-parenting (or politics), so I offered a second-grade response, something akin to ‘Well, I think Donald Trump is the worst.” (My play date partner ushered the kids out of earshot in case the conversation turned into conflict.) But I backed up my barb: The new president, in his inaugural address (and again the other day at the Conservative Political Action Conference), declared that the “forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer.” And then his actions showed he had forgotten the spirit of that statement almost immediately.
In Trump’s very first executive order, his administration “suspended indefinitely” a cut in insurance premiums on mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The policy change cost homeowners, including many people of modest means, an estimated $500 per year. That matters to most Americans. We’re not talking about Mar-a-Lago-sized properties here.
Why would the president do such a thing right away? Couldn’t he find an innocuous policy to reverse, one most Americans would applaud? Get rid of pennies or something?
I asked the Trump fan on Atlantic Avenue. He shrugged and revealed that during the recession he had been forced to short-sell his house. Maybe the executive order, he reasoned, helped struggling banks, which had suffered losses because of people like him.
“So you think the big banks are hurting?” I asked incredulously. He didn’t offer much of an answer.
Since then, the Trump administration has been actively forgetting the very voters the president claims to care so much about. “Follow the money,” the Watergate-era maxim instructs. The president’s initial budget proposal would boost defense spending by a whopping $54 billion and slash the same amount from most other government agencies.
Such a massive cut will gut-punch many of the working poor who rely on government subsidies (and voted for Trump) for a roof over their heads. Reuters reports that budget experts expect the Trump spending priorities, if signed into law, to “dramatically impact safety-net programs.” The article goes on to warn that “housing advocates paint a bleak picture of the landscape for low-income housing under the Trump administration. They warn that deep cuts to housing funds would force some people out of their homes and hollow out grant programs meant to revitalize urban neighborhoods.”
If I could share details of Trump’s plans with the fellow who applauded him during our street-side summit in Brooklyn, I doubt he would express buyer’s remorse or feel hoodwinked. As we parted with a handshake, agreeing to disagree, he said, “Look, “I gave Obama a chance; why don’t you give Trump a chance?”
But given the administration’s actions that pilfer the pockets of the middle class and his budget of brutality, the question to ask is, “Will the president give his own voters a chance?”
David Wallis is the Forward’s opinion editor. Follow him on Twitter, @DavidRwallis