What should Jessica Valenti tell her six-year-old daughter? This is the question which has increasingly distracted me since Donald Trump won the Presidency. I have tried to concentrate on the future of the two million people who Trump has threatened to deport, but it is no use. What to do about Layla Valenti has been niggling at me and it is time to concede that I can ignore it no longer. I will turn and face the gale. What should Jessica Valenti tell her six-year-old daughter?
On Tuesday night the Valenti matriarchy, all three generations of them, were seated on their sofa somewhere in New York, expecting to see to their satisfaction that Hillary Clinton had been elected President. Here is Jessica reporting in the Guardian from the front line:
We bought champagne and cake, and promised Layla that she could stay up as late as she wanted to watch. My daughter fell asleep on the couch, still wearing a shirt emblazoned with the word “feminist” and an “I voted” sticker.
Layla’s grandmother and mother duly watched the hapless Mrs Clinton banging her head on the glass ceiling and not leaving a mark. The cake turned to ashes on their lips. Then, to their horror, they realised the full extent of the crisis which awaited them. They had lied to the little one. They had promised Layla that Hillary would be President. Layla would awaken, her eyelashes fluttering sweetly, to find that parental authority had let her down for the first time. Moreover, the American Constitution and even democracy itself were potentially in the doghouse. Jessica recounts what she is up against:
This morning, I’ll have to tell Layla that Hillary Clinton lost, that a woman won’t be president. Even more difficult, I’ll have to tell her that Donald Trump won. The man she knows as a bully who says terrible things about women, people with disabilities and immigrants – the man who brags about hurting people and separating families – will lead her nation.
The only thing that Jessica has going for her is that her daughter evidently sleeps for very long periods. Why, the two elder Valentis have experienced one of the most dramatic election nights in living memory; they have witnessed the surprise triumph of right-wing populism and the devastation of social democracy (all whilst the youngest Valenti lay insensible beside them). They have been thrown this way and that by the night’s riotous emotions. And then Jessica has had to confront the terrible question of what to tell her daughter. And next she has quickly written seven hundred words about this and pitched them to the Guardian. And still Layla is asleep. The little girl is finally carted off to her parents’ bed to sleep alongside them. The words which Jessica will say to her daughter remain unsaid, or at least unheard. On the verge of sleep, Jessica whispers “sorry.”
It is probably unlikely at this point in time that Layla is still asleep. Yet the Valenti family might be continuing to postpone that difficult conversation with her. Perhaps they have hidden all of their Hillary memorabilia behind the sofa and they are brightly changing the subject every time that Layla starts with, “so what happened to…” Here, therefore, is our question: would it be possible to convince a six-year-old (a being, after all, of very limited understanding) that Hillary Clinton was President for an entire four-year term? What are the technical challenges that the senior Valentis might face in this?
It has been done before. My heroine, the horror writer Shirley Jackson, once tried to persuade her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman that his favourite movie did not, in fact, exist, by stealing all of the books that referred to it from their local library. More recently, in Wolfgang Becker’s 2003 movie Good Bye, Lenin!, the characters scheme to make a lady in modern East Berlin believe that the Berlin Wall is still in one piece. Christiane Kerner, an ardent Communist, has just awoken from a coma and she cannot receive any sudden shock. Her family creates bogus news reports to prolong the deception.
For the conspiracy to work, the parents of all of Layla’s little friends would have to be in on it. Layla could be no doubt left alone with other children quite safely, since children of such a young age are never going to converse about Presidential politics without adult prompting. The danger is, however, of an unsupervised Layla coming across a television which broadcasts footage of President Trump. It would be much easier to fake copies of the New York Times which depict President Clinton than it would news footage, though these days any enterprising Film Studies student could probably knock up some doctored CNN reports. These clips could be put on a DVD and played on the Valenti family television in lieu of real-time news.
“I know that I’ll find the right words to relay the gravity of the election to my daughter without scaring her,” Jessica decides in her Guardian article. But it hardly needs to come to that. It would be comparatively easy to fake a Clinton Presidency because the imagination is not placed under the remotest strain when trying to picture it. An economic glacier, with incremental growth of, say, 1% per quarter; international summits in which politicians pass historic resolutions about climate change; and occasional hotspots flaring up in the Middle East. You could use any stock footage of Clinton from the last ten years, arriving outside the UN, arriving at Davos, appearing alongside Chinese men in grey suits at a press conference, appearing in front of congressional hearings with her trusty plastic smile.
And remember that we need to only fool a six-year-old child. Every parent will be familiar with the yearly deception of faking sooty hoofprints beneath the chimney and pretending that it was a midnight visitor who had consumed that glass of sherry. If a phenomenon as extraordinary as Santa Claus can be faked, one as dreary as President Clinton should be no trouble at all.
Everybody will benefit from this arrangement. A President Clinton will leave Layla with a model of female power which will inspire her to one day become a successful female lawyer. And her mother would never want to manipulate millions of working-class voters into believing that they were somehow responsible for making a six-year-old girl upset. Forging a Clinton Presidency would avoid such an unhappy outcome.
The only possible flaw with my plan that I can think of is that by her tenth birthday Layla might look askance at the protectionism, the global recession and the mass deportations. She might worry that her beloved Hillary was to blame for these things. Alternatively, she might just assume that Hillary’s youthful idealism has been tempered by the realities of power.