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CULTURALLY SHOOK | How the Trump White House Is Turning Children into Political Puppets

Last week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new White House Press Secretary, read a 9-year-old boy’s letter to President Trump during a press briefing. This lucky 9-year-old boy is Dylan Harbin, also known by the nickname Pickle. Pickle is only in the 3rd grade, but he doesn’t know “why people don’t like” Donald Trump—he likes Trump so much he even had a Trump-themed birthday party!  

I don’t need to tell you that Pickle’s childlike fascination with the rude, noisy NSFW animation that is Donald Trump—while troubling—is clearly not rooted in any nuanced understanding of Trump’s domestic and international policy decisions. Liberals, leftists and anyone else who grows nauseated by the mere mention of our traffic cone-tinted Commander-in-Chief traipsing through the White House with all the grace of a tactless Neanderthal can agree that Pickle’s object of obsession is, to say the least, unfortunate. But no one can blame him because after all, he is but a misguided child—he is not yet an active participant in the systemically flawed, ultra-partisan minefield that is American politics.

Needless to say, the press briefing is not a place where the Press Secretary should read White House fan mail—this isn’t story-time. It’s not the place where the White House Press Secretary should assume the position of White House Peacock and preen its political feathers for the benefit of no one but itself. So what, exactly, did the White House intend to prove by reading a letter from a 9-year-old to a room full of reporters and journalists?

Sanders says she read the letter to remind people of the “forgotten men, women and children that we’re here to serve and that the president is fighting for.” It’s odd that she could utter those words with a straight face, without bursting into tears. Because Trump’s actions invert the idea of fighting for the forgotten—they skew the truth of the phrase as if reflecting it through the wilted glass shards of a shattered funhouse mirror. He is not fighting for these “forgotten men, women and children.” He is fighting them.

In his letter, Pickle asks Trump if they can be friends. Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives the audience a sly smile, as if some secret White House conspiracy to indoctrinate the youth into the pseudo-philosophy of Trumpism is going exactly as planned. “I’m happy to say that I directly spoke to the President, Dylan. He would be more than happy to be your friend,” Sarah says, beaming proudly as she glances at the audience, as if half-expecting this glorious proclamation to be greeted by a teary round of applause from the press.

But Pickle, take it from me—Donald Trump is not your friend. Would your friend scribble with crayon all over your notebooks, tear up your textbooks, snap your pencil in half and leer at you as he fires your teacher and sets your school on fire? That is, symbolically, what Trump is doing to the American education system as he proposes a federal budget that cuts funding to the Department of Education by 13.5%. Trump wants a dizzying $9.2 billion ceremoniously slashed, depriving numerous education initiatives of funding—including teacher training, an after-school program serving a population largely comprised of poor children and a literacy program. Yet he pretends to be a friend to the children, tastelessly flourishing the oh-so-generous donation of his quarterly salary to the Department of Education. As if a $100,000 contribution would be able to fill up the financial hole left by the billions he wants to take away from the already underfunded department.

Showing off a letter from a 9-year-old Trump “supporter” in a transparent attempt to defend the actions of an administration doing everything it can to hurt those it pretends to help isn’t coincidentally wrong—it’s intentionally manipulative. The White House attempts to pass off Pickle’s apolitical Trump obsession as a partisan endorsement from The Youth™. By associating itself with the image of a wide-eyed, unsuspecting child, the Trump administration tries to shield itself from the backlash its regressive policy decisions deserve. You can condemn a president. You can’t condemn a child.

Before you resentfully raise your hand to criticize the policy decisions of the 45th President of the United States, the White House wants you to take a moment to think of Pickle. Pickle, in his trademark Make America Great Again red hat, at his Trump-themed birthday party. Pickle, with his trusting, innocent expression, an expression that could only belong to a child unaware of the historical inequality Trump has made it his personal and professional duty to uphold. That’s right—how can you criticize this young boy’s role model? That’s just cruel. Uncalled for. You should be ashamed of yourself.

I’m not surprised that the Trump administration is offering Dylan a tour of the White House. It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except the Chocolate Factory is the White House and Willy Wonka is a white supremacist with a 39% approval rating. Trump exploited the racist heartbeat of white America to become president. What makes you think he wouldn’t exploit a child?

* Update: Just yesterday, the White House read a letter from a 10-year-old who asked to mow the White House lawn. He was also invited to the White House. Trump thinks the 10-year-old is “doing a great job.”

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