Americans who despise Trump live with the unanswered craving for some hero who can take him down. For a while, they thought ousted FBI Director James Comey could be that person. For a much longer while, they cast Robert Mueller, the special counsel tasked with investigating Russian election interference, in that mythic role. Now, with November 2020 in sight, many have decided (reluctantly or not) to embrace presidential nominee Joe Biden as their would-be savior.
Meanwhile, though, liberals and leftists have also taken a shine to Claudia Conway, the 15-year-old daughter of Washington insiders Kellyanne Conway and George Conway. Since late 2018, her parents’ marriage has been the butt of a recurring joke. Kellyanne, as a loyal counselor to the president, lies outrageously for him on TV; George, a conservative Never Trumper, condemns him in op-eds and tweets and co-founded the Lincoln Project, a Republican-steered PAC that works on Biden’s behalf.
So, what’s the atmosphere like at home? In tweets and TikToks, Claudia — one of the Conways’ four children — has given us an answer: Oppressive.
Claudia, as she’s often said, finds herself in a traumatic, impossible situation. She’s a left-leaning teen in a GOP household — which, in itself, is nothing out of the ordinary. But unlike other kids using social media to praise Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and rip on the president, her voice carries as that of an insurgent deep behind enemy lines, since her mom and dad have come to prominently symbolize the current split in the conservative psyche: decided loyalty to a corrupt demagogue or a “principles over party” approach that begs for a return to Reaganite norms.
Now it seems that Claudia’s outspokenness has led them to resign their opposing positions, and many Resistance Democrats have celebrated Kellyanne’s departure from the White House to focus on her family as a victory for themselves, even as Claudia began to seek emancipation due to alleged abuses that have nothing to do with the political maelstrom.
As you might expect of someone her age, Claudia has occasionally enjoyed her own impact (“Look what I did, ladies in gentlemen,” she said in a TikTok when her mom announced she was quitting) as well as demonstrated indignation that her commentary makes headlines (“EXPLOITING A MINOR PUBLICLY IS DISGUSTING,” she recently tweeted about the media in general). A sensible observer might conclude that she is under incredible strain and, although she ought to be able to express her opinions without being scolded by, say, self-help author Marianne Williamson, that is the reality we live in. But neither does she need to be egged on by those who would like to see one or both of her parents ruined and Trump ambiguously humiliated by proxy.
The followers lionizing Claudia do so in the same spirit that they applauded teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and the kids who advocated for gun control after surviving the shooting at their Parkland, Florida high school: as leaders of a new generation that will save this country.
Except, well, here’s the catch: If you actually listen to the Thunberg and the Parkland group, you won’t necessarily hear how they plan to enact systemic change. Instead, they are telling the adults to get their act together, and wondering why it has fallen to the youth to voice any call to virtuous action. Claudia Conway now has the duty of convincing people to vote against Trump when she’s not old enough to punch a ballot herself. Like the previous savior-teens, she is asking if the grown-ups — her parents obviously included — can exercise their current power to address the crisis of the moment, not just fight inane culture wars. If George and Kellyanne stand for anything, it is politics as theater, or a game of appearances. To paint Claudia as an avenging champion of liberalism feeds into that mindset. It makes her less a hero than a pawn.
To her great credit, she is using an unwanted platform in the way she sees as maximally beneficial to this nation. We cannot respond to that with mere worship, or the cheap sentiment that she and Generation Z as a whole are coming to rescue us — because they, and Claudia in particular, are the ones who need our help. She says as much in every other tweet or livestream, alluding to the toxic dynamic in her household and the desperate need to break free. She’s in trouble right now, and thousands are applauding her anguish for the simple reason that it has (temporarily) hurt her odious parents’ careers.
That’s not a viable path to a better world, and it’s a far, far cry from the moral victory against Trump that so many yearn for. To fetishize a child’s suffering is to be complicit in it. Don’t make a 15-year-old your martyr. She deserves to live in peace.
And in the end, that’s all she’s asking for.