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Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, A Mother Confronts the Wounded Ego of the Century

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As a kid, Trump was sent off to military school, which he memorably claimed was harder than real military service. In assessing himself in the best possible light (something he's never stopped doing quite publicly in these last months, giving the world a unique lesson in self-love), he told biographer Michael D'Antonio with pride (I think), "When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I'm basically the same."

In a way, don't you think that sums up the problem on hand? America First! Make America Great Again! Me! Mine! Build the Wall! Keep Out the Muslims! Aren't these the grown-up equivalent of first-grade slogans and sentiments? Maybe Trump never got to be a real toddler and so did not grow into a real man (no matter what he thinks of his "hands").

After all, real toddlers play. If their parents aren't helicoptering in too much, they run headlong into the world with joyous abandon. And every scrape and bump teaches them a lesson not just about their capabilities, but about their limitations, all our limitations. They're always reaching, always trying, always pushing themselves forward. From this play and the interactions and striving that comes with it they learn about natural consequences, including such simple lessons as be nice to others and they're likely to be nice to you, share with others and they're likely to do the same. Here, for instance, is a simple lesson of everyday life that doesn't need to be taught: holding on tight to a ball is not as much fun as playing catch. (But if you never learn to let go to begin with...?)

I love watching my kids on the playground and work hard not to helicopter in or -- the opposite effect that adds up to more or less the same thing -- disappear into my phone or the crossword puzzle. And what amazes me is that they're so outgoing and ready to connect with anyone who comes along.

"What's your name?" Seamus greets each new kid. "Wanna play pirates?" -- or lions, or wolves, or princesses, depending on his mood. And then he races off, confident that the other kid is running alongside him, ready to play. Madeline laughs and climbs to the top of the highest thing she can scale. "No help, mama. No help. Me do it!!" she calls, proudly, 10 feet off the ground. "Me big."

And it's true, she is Huge, so much bigger than Trump because she and Seamus don't have that overwhelming urge to build walls, or call others names, or demean or demonize.

Listening is an Act of Love (Pay Attention, Donald!)

I almost feel sorry for Trump, given what I know of his upbringing. He pulls on my heartstrings a little, because a man so programmed to grab for every headline and steal every show and say whatever he can to keep the hot lights of the media on him undoubtedly wasn't listened to as a kid.

Listening is an act of love; that's what I tell my own kids (even though the steely-saucy New Yorker still buried in this 42-year-old mother of toddlers rolls her eyes big time every time I say it). If listening is an act of love, then it's a good bet that long ago Donald Trump lost out big time.

Our children's librarian told me that it takes a toddler five seconds to hear, absorb, and respond to a question or direction you give them. Five seconds is a long time in toddler town. In those seconds, I try to imagine my words working their way through a labyrinth of puzzles and curiosities as they hone in on the mental heartlands of my children. But here's the question I ask myself: Why do I think of Trump while waiting for my "wash your hands" directive to radio down to my child's brain? Why do I feel terrible for him? Maybe because the volume and pitch of his bombast exists in direct correlation to some ancient childhood feeling of wanting to be heard by those giants looming over him and not knowing how to make that happen.

We Have Nothing to Fear But"

Kids are scared of all sorts of things. Seamus and Madeline are afraid of the dark, of monsters, of superheroes gone bad, and -- most of all -- of kale salad. (Their big sister Rosena harbors this particular dread, too.) Their fears are, of course, largely imaginary (kale salad aside). So try explaining the very real terror pressing at the heart of the Republican Party establishment now that their punishing no-government-is-good-government credo (except when it comes to our giant military and the most oppressive powers of the national security state, those giant tax breaks for the rich, and those giant prisons for the poor, black, and brown) has taken root in the ultimate anti-candidate, the bad boy with the world's most talked about hairdo (the blonde bouffant with its own Twitter handle -- "I'm on top of the man who is on top of the world. Follow me, people").

Trump's loss in Wisconsin may be good news for Republicans terrified of him and his family moving into the White House. In a recent poll, a third of Wisconsin Republicans said that they were scared of what Trump would do as president. (Many of them assumedly voted for Ted Cruz, a man so preternaturally scary that even the King of Scary -- Stephen King -- is scared of him, and that is scary!)

Fear is an evolutionary tool embedded in our minds to keep our bodies from doing dangerous and reckless things. How do toddlers conquer their fears, real and imaginary? Fear slows down their minds a little, taps into their inner executive, and helps them do a cost-benefit analysis of the risky behavior they're considering. Then they screw up their courage, rush into the dark room, flip on the light, and grab the cookies, their little hearts beating like conga drums. The Fear of Trump should serve a similar function for Republicans. The problem is: Ted Cruz is not a cookie!

Toddlers have so much to teach Donald Trump as a person and as a presidential candidate, but deep down I don't want him to learn such Toddler Town lessons because that just might make him implosion proof and canny enough to sweep into the Republican convention, get that nomination, and take the general election.

And then I would have a motherly problem of the first order: how to explain President Trump to Rosena, Seamus, and Madeline!

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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