People said all kinds of things about the Obama children, but they never stooped to this wordplay. They criticized their outfits. They criticized their facial expressions. They never, not even once, used name-based wordplay to insinuate that they were not titled gentry. They always knew they had better not dare. That was the kind of respect the Obama children were always shown.
Even Teddy Roosevelt’s notably wayward Alice was spared this indignity. “I can be president of the United States,” President Roosevelt once reportedly said, “or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” But no one replied to him, “You may name her Alice, but you should have named her Alas.” They understood, correctly, that this was beyond the pale.
Baby McKee, President Benjamin Harrison’s grandson, the child incumbent of the White House during his term, was called many things — Baby McKee among them — but they never dared point out that he was Baby McKee, not Baby McKing, not even when he was dragged briefly down Executive Avenue by a runaway goat.
This is the one sin up with which, correctly, no president has put. “I hear you have a son named Kermit," someone once told President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “But try as you might, you cannot make him a frog puppet.” It was an anachronism, but that made it no less cutting. Roosevelt turned from his fireside chat, dousing the flames, to say in his most devastating tone, “Well, my sons are Elliott, James, Franklin and John, but on behalf of my distant cousin Kermit, son of Teddy Roosevelt, I am enraged.* You now have two things to fear: fear itself, and my wrath. Get out of this house.” And that was the last we heard of H.L. Mencken!
The point is, there are some outrages that presidents themselves must bear, but we always hope to spare the presidential children. They are just children, after all. They did not ask for this. This is an area in which the Trump administration has always stood firm. It has done many unsavory things to children — separated them from their parents, left them in not-cages. Even Melania Trump, who now speaks up so heartily for her son, wore a jacket that read “I really don’t care, do u?” to visit the children in their camps. But never, never did Donald Trump insinuate that those children were not royalty. That, he knew, would have been unthinkable.
No, this indignation is entirely justified. To allude to the fact that the president has minor children who are not royalty is the unkindest cut of all, and we must leave them out of it.
This outrage is certainly not trumped up — oh, no, now I have gone and invoked a child’s last name, too. Surely the tumbrel is coming for me.
*This piece has been updated to reflect that Kermit Roosevelt was the son of Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thanks to sharp-eyed readers for pointing this out!
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