Retaining sufficient objectivity to offer some cogent observations during this election cycle has been a trying experience to say the least.
So, perhaps it’s good that this essay is being written a day prior to knowing the results — because, regardless of the outcome, we will have a lot of work to do.
We’ve learned important things about ourselves from this election — some of them unfortunately not altogether laudatory. It has become cliché, but we are a deeply divided nation. If anything has been evinced by this profoundly ugly campaign, it is that.
The most disquieting realization is that bigotry, nativism and misogyny are with us much more than we want to believe. It all was overtly and purposely thrust into the open in a way thought to belong to a bygone era.
As disturbing as that is, it can be dealt with effectively by a far larger and saner majority that is appropriately repulsed by such demonstrative hatred.
But there is an aspect to these prejudices that is not so blatant — a subtle undercurrent that affects perceptions in often such an inconspicuous way that any suggestion that one’s words or actions might be, even marginally, racist or sexist in nature is immediately and irately rejected.
Nonetheless, this “stealth” bias is real and reveals itself in tacit, sometimes involuntary reversions to broad stereotypes as a means of interpreting things that are not easily explained or readily understood.
It can’t help but exist.
Discrimination against women and certain race and ethnic groups in America, though not always understood as such, were accepted social norms for many decades here.
When a female presidential candidate’s impressive resume of public service experience, whatever her shortcomings, are subsumed to the demonstrably inferior credentials of a thoroughly inexperienced male — and implausible justifications are offered to deflect allegations of misogyny — that bias is undoubtedly present.
When 40 percent of a major political party’s members can be convinced that a sitting president of mixed race is not a citizen of the country he was elected to lead, that bias is there regardless of the strained alternative rationalizations offered for such a belief.
As unacceptable as these prejudices are, the anxieties that help generate it can and should be addressed.
A significant portion of our society perceives that its cultural influence and economic position may be waning. While largely unsure about extent and causes, it has been open to the conjecture that “outsiders” and “others” are to blame. Furthermore, it faults “the establishment” for either generating it or failing to protect them from it.
By any objective analysis, white males have held a pre-eminent political, social and economic status in American society from its beginnings — albeit in differing ways within differing classes.
Social movements, court decisions and political reforms have modulated it, but overall, that legacy still persists.
Many, of course, don’t see it that way. They resist the notion that their desire for “mere” continuation of a status quo that, to them, works and works well for all concerned can be considered even remotely racist or chauvinistic. After all, they argue, a non-white president was elected to two terms and women clearly have an increasingly influential role in all sectors of society, including potentially imminently electing a president.
Therefore, their perception is that whatever “unfairness” exists not only affects them above all, but actually targets them.
Understandably, anyone feeling so wronged is going to react protectively, strongly and reflexively.
They will be open to the idea that life is a zero-sum game — that in order for someone to win, somebody else has to lose. If they are convinced they are doing everything possible, then their problems must be due to people, places and things outside their control that are working against their own best efforts.
Bridging the divide
“A house divided against itself shall not stand.”
Lincoln’s warning is arguably more immediately imperative living in the fraught global atmosphere we do today.
Nothing will bring this country low more quickly and conclusively than a blind perpetuation of these caustic divisions and the relentlessly unproductive finger-pointing that comes with them.
Not everyone is prepared to navigate unaided the phalanx of social, political and economic changes inevitably and continuously coming our way.
Not unreasonably, all of us seek some reassurance that the future won’t overwhelm or sweep us aside.
Otherwise, resentment understandably sets in with the unproductive and predictably futile results we are witnessing.
This is where “the establishment” can be said to have failed.
This is the source of the bitterness that at least in part fuels biases and an acrid political atmosphere.
This is the failure that first needs to be addressed if we are to even begin to bridge our current great divide.
John Figliozzi of Halfmoon is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.