President Donald Trump tweeted in support of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, as one might expect. And his statements were fine, the kind of unremarkable language that in normal times, under a normal presidency, would be unlikely to ruffle many feathers. But these are not normal times. And, on a day when kids typically hear uplifting messages about women’s history and status in this country, the president’s statements pointed out his negative example for young people. Despite their positive tone, Donald Trump’s tweets teach kids a dangerous lesson about what it means to say and do the right thing.
Taken alone, the president’s words weren’t a problem. “On International Women's Day, join me in honoring the critical role of women here in America & around the world,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning. He added, “I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy.”
But saying something nice about a group that includes almost half the country is the kind of basic behavior that we should expect from our nation’s leader. What matters is whether Trump's words jibe with his actions as president. Because, as parents have been telling kids since time began, saying the right thing is not the same as doing the right thing.
I tell my kindergartener all the time to use how people treat her as the way to gauge their friendship. “When your classmates really want to be friends,” I say, “they use kind words, they share with you, they play with you, and they want to see you happy.” For now, she still takes many of her cues on how women and girls should be treated by how her dad treats her mom and the other women in her life. But for older kids, Trump’s kind words and poor example would make the lesson far more complicated.
To put it bluntly, Trump has not been saying or doing the right thing when it comes to women.
In the runup to the election, when he wasn’t making ugly, misogynistic statements about women, he was signaling that eroding women’s rights would be a priority for his administration. He told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who seek abortion, then clarified by saying that maybe their doctors should be punished. He called pregnancy an “inconvenience” to employers and applauded a Trump employee for coming back to work just three weeks after giving birth. And he seemed unpersuaded during the campaign that equal pay and rising childcare costs were valid concerns or that the government should have a role in addressing either.
His first actions as president don’t offer much encouragement that Trump means to do anything other than ignore women's needs. One of his first executive orders resurrected a Reagan-era “gag rule,” restricting organizations in other countries from using their own money to offer information or access to abortion. He introduced a child care tax plan that many warn will benefit only middle- to high-income earners. And just this week, the White House expressed full support of a GOP health care plan that stripped out mandatory coverage of maternity care. Yes, in a country where each year 23,000 infants die before their first birthday — more than Poland and Slovenia — Trumpcare would make it more difficult for women to get adequate prenatal care.
Just like we shouldn’t tell little girls that boys who hit them or tease them on the playground are only doing it “because he likes you,” we shouldn’t pretend that because Trump (or a member of his staff) published something decent on March 8 that we’ve turned some kind of corner on women’s rights in this administration. One good moment does not make a president and one positive statement doesn’t — and shouldn’t — erase a history of wrongs.
Only kind actions can do that.