Donald Trump is a phenomenon. To those aware of the global political landscape he is a complete force of nature. But to those who do not understand the intricate details, Trump still remains a point of fascination. This also extends to young people.
Whether it is his caricature image, his brazen attitude or his flamboyant presence, Trump captures the attention of young people. They somehow know that this guy is not the norm, and they are naturally interested in what he does. So should we, therefore, thank Trump for engaging a new generation of youngsters, or does he simply view that as collateral damage?
My sister is 8.
She knows who Donald Trump is. She knows of his ‘build the wall’ rhetoric, she can do impressions of his signature hand waving and pout.
Similarly, if I was ever left with a younger class while teaching in Vienna, the go-to topic for discussion would be on Trump. If I asked what they knew about Trump, I would have a flood of hands in the air reeling off answers like ‘tough immigration’, ‘conservative’, ‘a far-right Republican’.
Those students were 12.
When we think of those to thank for steps forward in political literacy, we tend to thank policymakers. Think Blair and his ‘citizenship’ under New Labour, or the recreation of the Department of Education in 2010.
While those are instances of moving the education debate forward, political figures do a lot of the engagement for us. Somehow, in 2018 that means Donald Trump. Ask my sister or my students in Vienna who Theresa May is and what she believes, and you could have a different story.
Without really any understanding of world order, children are in tune to what is going on simply from a five-second segment on BBC News.
So, in the long run then, should we be grateful to Trump?
While children are certainly more interested in what he has to say because of how he looks and sounds, his message for youngsters is not exactly ideal. Whether it is bad-mouthing allies, taking swipes at s**t-hole countries or condemning entire religions, you probably would not want this to be your child’s first exposure to politics.
But in 2018 it is.
Perhaps therefore it is down to people like Trump to engage and capture attention, but for parents to step in and mediate any questions that young people may have.
I know for certain my sister views Trump with intrigue — ‘How did he become President?’, she would ask. She is not asking the same about other figures on the news; not May, not Merkel, not even Obama while he was in the Oval Office.
It is unlikely that Trump will get any credit for engaging young people.
He probably had no intention of doing so, and therefore doesn’t deserve any significant praise. He knows his character, and probably views mobilised young people as collateral damage to the rest of his plan.
Nevertheless, this is a small benefit to take away from the Trump Administration. When he leaves office in 2025 he could potentially leave in his wake, amongst other frightful things, a generation of young people in tune to debates (even sound-bytes) on immigration, economic policy and ideology.
Whether Trump meant to do this, however, is a different story.