Hip-hop was made for times like these. So I asked my students to write some bars and express the way they feel about our new president. It was not pretty.
When I saw the election, I saw Trump winning /
And after that my head got to spinning.
Trump is bad / Trump is sad too
Trump look like Hitler from World War Two.
He won the election because he cheated /
It's the only reason he didn't get beated.
–Jaylon, fifth grade
At the Spanish-language immersion school where I currently teach kids to write rap songs, most of my students are black or Latino. The school's staff is made up almost exclusively of immigrants from Mexico, Spain, Honduras, and other Spanish-speaking countries. And so I felt extra nauseous on Wednesday, the day after Election Day, going into work. They all must have been wondering who in their American midst could have possibly voted for that racist monster. I, the only white man, would be the only real possible suspect.
But instead of calling off work and sautéing myself in red wine and white tears, I got in my car. New Orleans's unusually silent, lonely streets felt a lot like Ash Wednesday, the day after every Mardi Gras: like a bomb went off. Like the party was clearly over.
At school I was still greeted warmly. And after taking roll and passing out snacks and joking with the fifth graders about their very real election frustrations, I slowly began to realize... no other day would be better for writing raps. America's Reagan years had worked like steroids on both hip-hop and punk rock. Rap was first forged specifically as a tool to express the kinds of feelings so many of us shared. Hip-hop was made for today.
As we sat down with our drum machine, paper, and pencils, I made a point not to tell the kids my own political opinions. I wanted the thoughts and words in their couplets to be wholly their own. But since not a lot of Trump voters send their kids to Spanish immersion schools, my students' opinions weren't very surprising or dynamic. Kids like Evin were as mad and let down and worried as any of us:
Tuesday was Election Day / On that day, I lost my way.
He dislikes the way I look / Sometimes I think he is a crook.
Donald Trump is a clown / I hope he doesn't let us down.
Clinton is a great lady / We all know that Trump is shady.
Hillary Clinton should have won / After that election, I think I'm done.
I feel bad for my country / I thought this was the home of the free.
I'd been equally careful about involving my own seven-year-old daughter in this nasty election, but she still peripherally absorbed enough of Trump to dislike him tremendously. She couldn't exactly tell you why, but each time she saw his face somewhere, she would literally growl his name. Luckily, I'd provided enough of a buffer that she didn't melt down on Wednesday morning (like all of my adult friends did) upon hearing the bad news. She only snarled, "You better buy me a punching bag," and then got over it on the car ride to school.
My own students, though, were older, and so they knew a few more specifics about their own fears and worries. My student Jayden told me, "Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both bad, but Hillary Clinton is better. Now the Purge is coming." I saw scrawled on Jayden's paper: Sit tight, stay white.
As the beat rolled, every few minutes a student would ask me how to spell a word, and I would write it on the board: "racist," "inappropriate," "sin," "Donald." De'jah asked me to spell "awful," and then expressed her nuanced concerns in a well-composed 16 bars:
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton / both of them are worth billions.
What do I think about my new president? / I wish that we could sell him for rent.
I was so surprised that Donald Trump won / he is just an awful person.
He does awful nasty things / and we all know he doesn't have feelings.
I don't know how he was raised / I can't believe some people praised.
My mom told me to stop trying / and I had to bust out crying.
He may not be my color / but he could stand to be a lot nicer.
Hillary Clinton was not very bad / and now all of us are a little bit sad.
In general, the kids were downright Trump-like in their criticism of our new president's appearance. It was very hard to pry students like Zoe off the superficial subject:
I wish Donald Trump didn't win / because he looks like a pigpen.
I know a lot of people like him / but he smells like a men's gym.
He shouldn't have done what he done, in that video /
And now they talk about it on every show.
"One of the things people don't like about this guy is that he reduces everyone down to their appearance, and whether they are attractive," I pointed out to my students, letting my own views slip out. "That's boring as well as mean. Don't let your raps be boring. Let's limit ourselves to just one insult about his hair per song."
Jayden, for one, did not obey:
I think Donald Trumps' breath smells like onions /
He probably ate for breakfast a bunch of Funyuns.
Trump's wife copied a speech from Michelle /
And her breath smells like kelp.
My more woke fifth graders remained distraught yet poised, like Sasha:
I was really surprised, when Trump won / I cried all night and it wasn't fun.
He said he's going to build a wall / Over it, you couldn't throw a ball.
Now that Donald Trump has won / I'm going to turn into a Canadian.
While others, like my man Jimmie, were too upset to even make his worries rhyme:
I feel mad about the election. I don't like Donald Trump. He did something inappropriate and he talks about women and he's racist. Hillary Clinton would have made a great president. She is not racist or inappropriate. Donald Trump is going to start a World War Three. I think all the African Americans are in danger because Donald Trump hates all the African Americans and he is going to try to kill us.
In a postscript either hopeful or sarcastic, Jimmie added, America is a great country.
Follow Michael Patrick Welch on Twitter.
The students were paid for the publication of their original writing, and also thrown a lavish pizza party.