Save the Children

If Dostoevsky was correct, that the true touchstone of morality is one’s concern for children, then the United States today is amoral — which is worse than immoral. Because immorality acknowledges, at least, that morality exists.

I’m speaking not only of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who believes that public schools are evil, but since she’s in charge she might as well sell them to the highest bidder.

I’m speaking not only of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who believes that our nation’s irreplaceable, stunningly beautiful and untamed wild places should not be preserved so our children and grandchildren can see and learn — dare I say this? — the glory of God. No, National Monuments don’t produce money, so they should be sold off to the highest bidders.

I’m speaking above all of the president, whose filthy-minded speech to the Boy Scouts encouraged them to turn, like him, into smutty, smirking sycophants, and mock Washington, D.C. as “a sewer.”

I’m speaking about Donald J. Trump, who tried to politicize the U.S. armed forces at the commissioning of the nation’s newest aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford.

Navy, Army and Air Force recruits are kids, 18 years or a bit older. One of many reasons they are proud to serve — perhaps the greatest of all reasons — is that for two centuries, U.S. military forces, by and large, have refused to be subverted for political ends.

What example is this president setting for our kids?

He is teaching them that the primary purpose of powerful men is to whine when they don’t get their way. That the purpose of accumulating great wealth is to have orgies on a yacht.

As the Roman emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius sat in judgment in court one day, a corrupt defendant pleaded innocence because he had done no violence. Marcus Aurelius asked him: “Do you think it is violence only when men are wounded?”

Marcus also said that most men’s fears are the fears of children, who fear a mask that they themselves have made.

I taught in public high schools for nine years, and coached distance runners. I learned a lot from them. Let me tell you a true story about one.

This fellow — let’s call him Mr. X — was a talented runner, and smart. He’d got bored with high school and dropped out, and did nothing much for a year. Then he wised up and decided to run his way back to life. He went back to school and joined my track team in the middle of the year, on an Indian reservation. And he kicked butt. He was running 2:01 half miles early in the season, and 4:35 miles. We were a small school, and there was no question that he would qualify for state.

Then one day we got a message. Mr. X hadn’t bothered to withdraw from an off-reservation school a year and a half ago. He’d just stopped going. So he got straight Fs. And since those were the last grades he’d got, he was academically ineligible.

Our school wasn’t pulling a fast one. We just didn’t think to check. He was an A student. But I had to tell Mr. X his season was over.

I got the message from the principal in the middle of track practice. When it was over, I asked Mr. X to come see me after he’d showered. He did, at my little apartment on the rez, and I gave him the news — his ticket to a new life was over, for now.

“Oh, wow,” he said — a 16-year-old kid. “I’m going to have to take a walk and think about this.”

So Mr. X took a walk in the desert. He showed up about 10 minutes later, and this is what he said.

“What I need to do now is to set one or two long-term goals, and two or three short-term goals.” And he told me what those goals might be.

I was astounded. This 16-year-old kid was more mature than I was. He was wiser, too.

He did not blame anyone but himself. He did not waste one minute — not one second — whining about how unfair it was. He took a few minutes to think and got on with his life. I still hear from him from time to time, and he’s a fine man. He’s coaching runners.

Here is my point: X was not only more mature at 16 than I was at 33, he was more mature at 16 than the president of the United States is at 70.

Mr. X was a strong man at 16. Donald Trump is still a spoiled brat at 70. And as far as I can see, so are his kids and his son-in-law. I know that sounds personal, but so what? The future of our country is at stake.

What is this man giving our kids to look up to?

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