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How to Keep Your Kids Out of the Culture War – The Atlantic

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Highlights / The Atlantic

For $18, fans of President Donald Trump can purchase a onesie for their three-month-old from his campaign website that declares I cry less than a Democrat. Primary, the children’s clothing company, provided instructions on its website for a DIY Ruth Bader Ginsburg Halloween costume. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America sell baby apparel, and Etsy, where even the most absurd crafting projects find a home, offers an embroidered bib with the slogan Sorry for the spitup. I thought I saw Joe Biden.

Maybe this is messed up. Theoretically, politics is the process we use to determine how we want to be governed. Instead, it’s become a game of identity, in which children are recruited at a young age to join their parents’ tribe and blow raspberries at the other side. Many parents feel an intense attachment to their children’s political identities: 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats said they would be unhappy if their son or daughter married someone from the opposite political party, a 2019 survey from The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute found. This gulf between the parties has widened in 2020, when students around the country have been stuck at home or cycling in and out of school because of the coronavirus pandemic. In a concrete way, November’s election really did seem to be about the future of America’s kids.

Highlights is a publishing company whose eponymous flagship magazine was founded in 1946. It has now expanded into a kids’-content empire, including book clubs and map sets and puzzles. You’d think a brand like this would want to stay as far away from politics as possible. But Christine French Cully, the editor in chief and chief purpose officer—a title that shows how truly corporate the enterprise is—disagrees. “Kids are interested in talking about the election and politics,” she told me. But “parents are reluctant to do so in a way that’s meaningful, and that can help kids understand what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged citizen.”

Chances are that parents who dress their kid in an RBG costume are not encouraging her to go out and make Republican friends. But maybe they should. I spoke with Cully about the lessons parents should be teaching their children in this fraught political period, and how even a wholesome magazine like Highlights couldn’t avoid the culture wars. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Emma Green: When you were parenting small kids, was there ever a time that was remotely similar to our current period in terms of the intensity around politics?

Christine French Cully: This is an unprecedented time for parents. This has been a year of huge change and uncertainty and divisiveness that I don’t remember seeing, to this extent, ever before. I think everybody’s mental well-being has suffered. And I’m not sure the bar has ever been set so low when it comes to civil discourse and appropriate behaviors.

Green: What, in particular, have you heard from parents and kids as they’ve struggled through this era? What are the challenges that come up a lot?

Cully: Kids are watching us. They are watching and listening to us, and they are learning from us. Often what they see playing out on television and in their families and communities is also playing out in their worlds, with friends and classmates.

We were reminded of this when we received a letter from a child who self-described as a die-hard Republican, and he asked for help because he was being bullied. His friends were accusing him of being a racist, which he vehemently denied.

Green: I wonder if you find it disconcerting that kids are politicized that way—that at a very young age, they could already be thinking about themselves with such a strong identity. Is that unsettling to you?

Cully: Yes. It’s not unusual, of course, for kids to adopt the political views of their parents, and to assume that their parents are right. We see this in the mock elections kids have in school, things like that. But it is concerning when they’re used as accessories for their parents or used to promote their parents’ candidate, and the important conversations aren’t happening.

Kids are interested in talking about the election and politics. Researchers tell us this. And a lot of parents are reluctant to do so in a way that’s meaningful, and that can help kids understand what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged citizen.

Green: Parent friends of mine have told me their kids are experiencing this political period with a lot of intensity. I’ve heard stories of kids being really scared of Donald Trump, for example, and what would happen if Trump were elected or reelected president.

I wonder if that’s something you’ve dealt with at Highlights—political weight being put on kids who are maybe too young to understand it.

Cully: Yes. We have seen that. In fact, we had a letter from a child who said exactly what you just said: that they were concerned about Donald Trump being elected.

Kids are sponges. And what they do is pick up and absorb the strong emotions in the adults around them. So if the adults around them are really intensely talking about the election, if they are angry, if they are expressing extreme disappointment or despair, kids are picking that up.

It’s also important to remember that kids can also pick up emotions like calm and hope and optimism and empathy. Many of these lessons are caught, rather than taught.

Green: Is it possible to help kids not internalize one of the big messages of our era: that people who have different political views are the enemy?

If you have ideas about how to do this generally, you could very well be president of the United States, because I’m not sure anyone has a very good answer. But anyways: How should parents even begin to grapple with that?

Cully: The acrimony that surrounds this election and postelection period requires parents to have conversations with kids about how to live with people with whom we disagree, and how to talk to those people with kindness and respect. There are many different views of the world, and most of those perspectives deserve respect. There are a few exceptions, like QAnon, for example. But it’s really valuable for kids to realize that even when we don’t see things the same way, we can still usually find common ground.

Green: But there are also lines to teach kids about, right? The thing I have in mind is disinformation: helping kids discern what’s factual and truthful and reliable as a source, versus conspiracy theories. In recent years, that kind of disinformation has been furthered by people at the highest level of government.

Cully: I think parents can talk to kids about how they determine whether a news source is reliable. And parents can talk about why they’ve selected one candidate, or why they like one politician better than another. By doing that, they show kids how empowering voting can be.

I think this year, too, parents need to address the integrity of our voting process. They can help their kids fact-check some of the unfounded claims that are being made. Certainly, they should point to the poll workers—helpers, in Mister Rogers’s parlance—who helped ensure a fair and honest election.

Green: Some parents don’t believe this was a free and fair election. They believe there’s been widespread corruption by poll workers. They believe the election was stolen. And this is a message that has been pushed by people in the top levels of government, including the Trump administration.

It strikes me that you’re operating in a point of tension, as the leader of a publication that would love to have a broad audience with as many different kinds of kids as possible. How do you do that dance of encouraging parents to teach their kids the truth when some people who are part of your target audience probably believe things that aren’t true?

Cully: Mmhm. Yes. Well, you’ve put your finger right on it. That is the challenge.

We say what we believe is true. We adhere to our values. And we recognize that not everyone is going to agree. Sometimes, we may lose subscribers. But we can’t dump the whole load on our readers. There are certain things we can talk to them about, and some things we can’t. But we don’t compromise our core values. And those are that we think that everybody is deserving of dignity and respect. We think it’s really important to teach children that all humans are sacred. We think it’s important to teach kids how to think critically. And we want kids to know that the high road is the best road. Because we believe that if we want to create a more optimistic, empathetic world, we have to start with our kids.

Green: So do you have a how-to guide for making a Republican friend or a Democratic friend on the playground?

Cully: That’s a great idea, actually. I think we would talk about listening—that everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and you can listen, but you don’t have to agree. You should be prepared to defend your own beliefs with rational thought and facts. And that it’s important to always be kind. You don’t always have to have the last word. People remember how you treat them. And we want kids to be respectful.

Even as I say it, I hear how difficult it is.

Green: In what sense?

Cully: I just think it’s an easy thing to say but a harder thing to do.

But it’s aspirational. I guess that’s it. And for heaven’s sake, let’s be aspirational, all of us.

Green: Do you think that growing up in this particularly polarized, vitriolic, and chaotic era will teach kids bad habits around how to engage in American civic life? Or is there hope that we can encourage our kids to be better than we’ve been, and to take America in a direction that is kinder and more respectful of the dignity of people with different beliefs?

Cully: We can totally teach our kids that we can make a better world. But we have to call out the bad behavior when we see it. We can’t ignore it. Otherwise, we’re going to normalize it. I think we need to tell our kids that it’s highly unusual for a president to refuse to concede and offer support to his successor. We need to help kids understand that politicians say things they shouldn’t, and we shouldn’t condone that kind of behavior—the name-calling, the bullying.

In 2016, we did a survey with kids. We asked, “Do you think you would like to become president of the United States?” And 65 percent of the kids said no, because the job seemed too stressful and difficult. That is concerning to me, in some ways, almost more than the obvious bad behavior. We need to make sure we talk to kids about the importance of civic engagement and public service, so they can see the influence good leaders can have, too.

Green: I envy that you get to spend most of your time talking to earnest kids. I spend most of my time talking to cynical people and politicians.

Cully: The No. 1 thing it’s taught me is that we often underestimate kids’ ability to wrestle with the big, more philosophical ideas. In that survey, we also gave kids a list of character traits, and we asked them which one they thought was most important for a president to have. And the overwhelming answer was honesty.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.


Emma Green is a staff writer at ​The Atlantic, where she covers politics, policy, and religion.

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OPINION | The politics behind Jason Kenney's 'tepid' response to COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion from political scientists Duane Bratt, of Mount Royal University, and Lisa Young, of the University of Calgary.

Jason Kenney is a shrewd and experienced politician.

He has years of experience as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, and was instrumental in helping Harper win a majority in 2011. Returning to Alberta politics, he successfully merged the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties and won a resounding victory in the 2019 provincial election.

And yet, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, he and his government are floundering.

Alberta has the largest absolute number of COVID cases in Canada, despite having the fourth largest population. For 10 days in mid-November, Kenney did not appear in public despite rapidly increasing case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.

Eight months into the pandemic, his cabinet had to meet for eight hours to devise responses that many dismissed as inadequate. And most recently, a public servant has taken the unusual move of leaking information to journalists to highlight the growing divide between the Kenney government and its chief medical officer of health. 

Opinion polling shows that the Kenney government is paying a price for its handling of the pandemic.

Even in the early days of COVID-19, it was noticeable that the Kenney government missed out on the “COVID bump” that most other political leaders enjoyed. This was despite the fact that, in many ways, the Alberta government had responded effectively to the first wave.

But unlike other provincial governments, Kenney and his cabinet were engaged in a very public fight with doctors at a time when the public was banging pots and pans in appreciation of front-line workers.

Not taking a lesson from this, the government engaged in a broader dispute with health-care workers through the fall, and its poll numbers continued to drop.

A slide in public support

Last week, Leger reported that only 37 per cent of Albertans believed that their provincial government was handling COVID-19 well; the lowest, by far, of any province. Then, ThinkHQ reported that 81 per cent of Albertans would support a province-wide mask mandate.

It is unlikely that the measures announced on Nov. 24 will reverse, or even halt, this slide in public support.

How did a skilled politician like Kenney end up in this situation? We offer a few hypotheses. 

First, Kenney is almost certainly concerned about an electoral split on the right. Public opinion on appropriate responses to COVID is split along partisan lines, with those further to the right more resistant to mandatory measures.

Common Ground Politics survey research conducted in Alberta in August found that UCP voters were more likely than others to think that the reopening was too slow. A national survey conducted by Vox Pop found that Conservative voters were less likely to wear masks.

WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions for Alberta

Premier Jason Kenney outlined the new mandatory restrictions coming into effect, including a ban on all indoor social gatherings. 2:35

In his comments on Tuesday, the premier focused a great deal of attention on acknowledging the concerns of those on the right, who argue that restrictions are unconstitutional, for example. 

The Alberta separatist (or “Wexit”) movement has gained momentum since the 2019 federal election and Justin Trudeau’s re-election.

With his experience merging conservative parties at both the federal and provincial level, the premier is presumably concerned about vote splitting on the right. By appeasing conservatives, especially in rural Alberta, Kenney is consolidating his base.

With 41 of the 87 seats in the Alberta legislature outside of Edmonton and Calgary, consolidating that base makes electoral sense.

The restrictions that were announced on Tuesday, and the exemptions that were offered, lend support to this hypothesis.

Certainly, the decision to extend mask mandates only in Calgary and Edmonton (where they were already required through municipal bylaws) speaks to a desire to please conservative rural voters.

Similarly, the decision to permit in-person religious services to continue while junior high and high schools had to close speaks to a desire to keep voters in conservative-leaning faith communities onside. 

Response informed by ideology

Second, Kenney and many of his close advisors are strong partisans prone to demonizing their political opponents.

Although Alberta has elected conservative governments for decades, we have to go back to the Social Credit governments of the 1950s and 1960s to find a more ideologically conservative government than the current UCP. Although Ralph Klein’s government was driven by fiscal conservatism in its early years, its policies moderated in later years. 

The Kenney government’s strong ideological conservatism has informed its pandemic response, particularly since the end of the spring lockdown.

The government’s approach has been to emphasize personal responsibility rather than implementing restrictions.

Citing the economic cost of the lockdown, Kenney has repeatedly minimized the toll of the pandemic while emphasizing the negative consequences of restrictions on the economy broadly, and small business in particular.

This helps to explain why restaurants, bars, casinos, movie theatres and gyms are permitted to remain open, although with some further restrictions.

While other conservative provincial governments — notably Ontario and Manitoba — are placing greater restrictions on retail, Alberta is not. 

WATCH | University of Alberta’s Tim Caulfield says the province needs a transparent approach to pandemic policy

Tim Caulfield, an expert in health law at the University of Alberta, says the province needs  a co-ordinated and transparent approach when making policy around the coronavirus. 5:40

Third, having been elected on a mandate of “jobs, economy, pipelines,” the Kenney government remains focused on economic performance.

Its promise of balanced budgets are, of course, no longer feasible, but the government remains deeply concerned about the province’s balance sheet. This helps to explain the decision to push forward on cost savings in the public sector — including health-care — during the pandemic, as well as decisions that prioritize the economy. 

These three explanations — electoral considerations, ideology, and a focus on the economy — have resulted in a pandemic response that looks weak when compared to other provinces.

This is a moment that tests political leaders, requiring them to set aside political considerations in favour of the public good. Lives are at stake.

As the death toll continues to rise, the government’s tepid response will come under greater public scrutiny, and the political calculations that have informed it will appear increasingly out of touch.

If the Kenney government is unable to adjust to these new realities, it may pay a steep political price in 2023, as the electorate holds it accountable for both the economic and human cost of the pandemic.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.

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'The Great Reset', politics and conspiracy – CBC.ca

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Last week, after a video of one of his speeches went viral, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to address a growing controversy over “The Great Reset”.

The term means different things to different people. To the World Economic Forum it’s a vague goal to make the world more equal and address climate change in the wake of the pandemic. To Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre it’s evidence of a “power grab” by “global financial elites”.

And to others, it’s part of a baseless and wide-ranging conspiracy theory. CBC senior writer Aaron Wherry has been covering this story in Ottawa. Today he helps us sort the real economics and politics at play… from the conspiracy gaining traction.

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Leo Glavine, close political ally and friend of Premier McNeil, leaving politics – CBC.ca

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Leo Glavine and Stephen McNeil share a political border that spans almost 45 kilometres, but it’s not proximity that has cemented their political and personal friendship during the past 17 years — it’s mutual loyalty and respect.

So it was no surprise that both men talked in glowing terms about the other when addressing reporters Thursday after Glavine formally announced his decision to retire before the next election.

“I’ve had the good fortune to come into political life with Premier McNeil,” said Glavine, noting both men first took their seats at Province House in 2003. Each has been re-elected four times since.

McNeil, who announced his plans in August to retire, called Glavine a friend and described their political careers as “a great journey.”

“I admire you a great deal and I wish you nothing but great health and happiness and you head into the next part, the next chapter of your life,” McNeil said following a cabinet meeting.

Opposition to government

They sat near each other, first on the opposition side of the House, then on the government front benches starting in 2013 when McNeil became premier. Glavine was one of the first in the Liberal caucus to support McNeil’s leadership bid against three opponents. 

McNeil picked Glavine to be his first minister of health, a post Glavine held during the Liberal government’s entire first mandate. During that time, Glavine spearheaded the government’s tumultuous but ultimately successful drive to merge the province’s nine district health authorities into a single entity.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil waves after addressing supporters at his election night celebration in May 2017 in Bridgetown, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

At the same time, the McNeil government squared off against the province’s public sector unions, taking away the right to strike from health workers, then forcing a reduction in the number of bargaining units in the sector. Those actions led to many large and noisy demonstrations outside Province House. The governing Liberals also imposed around-the-clock sittings at the legislature to fast-track necessary bills to enact those changes.

Glavine remained steadfast in his support for McNeil and his reorganization plans. In return, McNeil kept Glavine in the job despite the minister’s inability, at times, to properly or succinctly articulate those plans.

‘Everything old is new again’

McNeil’s seemingly unending confidence in Glavine was demonstrated again last month when the premier reappointed him to replace Randy Delorey as health minister after Delorey resigned to run in the Liberal leadership race.

“Everything old is new again,” quipped Glavine as he approached reporters after a brief ceremony Oct. 13 at Government House.

Leo Glavine was named Nova Scotia’s minister of health, again, in October. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Asking Glavine to take over the portfolio in the midst of a pandemic may have been the ultimate display of confidence in his friend.

Glavine repaid the compliment in his farewell message Thursday.

“We’ve had an exceptional team in Public Health, the premier to guide our province through what may be one of the most challenging and difficult periods in the 21st century,” said Glavine, who characterized himself as “a very ordinary Nova Scotian” who came to Province House to “do the best work possible.”

What the future holds

The one-time public school teacher called his time in politics “a joy,” offering himself a rare bit of self-congratulation.

“While there were lots of challenges and stressful moments, I have not missed a day of work in my 17½ years in political office,” he said.

Glavine will stay on as the MLA for Kings West until the next election is called. He said he plans to go back to private life to “enjoy what the Valley has to offer” and spend more time with his grandchildren.

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