Far too frequently, the children of political figures are treated as collateral damage in a quest to defame someone’s reputation. When Malia Obama drank rosé a mere month shy of her 21st birthday, The International Business Times happily pounced and published an article titled, “Malia Obama Could Suffer Brain Damage For Underage Drinking, UCSD Study Reveals.” However, a quick Google of the study confirms that the writer misrepresented the study’s findings in their title, as the “brain damage” occurred mainly in 12-14 years olds who binge drank. Essentially, a private citizen was reduced to clickbait. Underage drinking happens every day in this country, but when Malia Obama did it, she was ridiculed on Twitter.
This problem is not unique to one political party. The president’s son has been repeatedly criticized for wearing “casual clothes” (in one instance, khaki shorts, loafers and a graphic tee) when travelling with his parents. First off, anyone who calls khaki shorts “casual” is going to need to fight the entire male student body of Villanova. Secondly, who cares? Barron is a kid and deserves the opportunity to dress like one. This doesn’t just happen to the children of Presidents. The private lives of the children of Senators, Supreme Court Justices and other political leaders have been the bread and circus for national media since the early days of American government. If these words were being said by children in a school lunchroom, adults would immediately intervene, because it would be bullying, but if they’re said by adults on the Internet, we call it journalism.
For the children of public figures, these criticisms are heaped on top of constant threats of violence from various terrorist organizations, spatratic threats from isolated extremists, and the joy of having secret service tail their every move. Imagine having professional bodyguards follow you and your date around your senior prom. That was the reality for Malia Obama and the generations of first children before her.
Critiquing the political stances of youth like Greta Thunberg or Kyle Kashuv is very different. They have chosen to enter the public sphere and attach their name to a cause. The media offering commentary on the involvement of Hunter Biden, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump in international affairs or national government is also very different that critiquing previous children of national leaders. Despite technically being children of the White House, they are adults who made the choice to be present at events and represent causes.
As the election season escalates, and in our day to day lives, let’s all agree to focus on the real issues that our country is facing and not if khaki shorts are casual.