By David Shribman
WASHINGTON – The entire political world is in a swivet. Worst election ever. Horrible candidates. Shameful dialogue. Unforgivably bad conduct. What a disgrace.
Hard to argue with any of that. But years from now, when this election is either a colorful or horrifying anecdote, it is possible that history may look back on it as an important moment in the American passage, and the consensus may emerge – as it has about other difficult episodes, such as the confrontations of the Civil Rights movement, now embraced as a shining American moment – that some substantial good came of the collision of forces in the 2016 election.
So as Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton bring their campaign ballistics to their welcome conclusion, we can hope that this election may be remembered for more than caustic comments and insults, and that the last several months will be redeemed because this election prompted some of the following:
• A searing examination of the relations between the sexes and a national condemnation of sexual harassment, in its subtle as well as its overt form.
Not since the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas has there been such intense attention on this issue, which has simmered on campus and in the workplace but exploded earlier this month onto the political stage. The video of Trump’s casual conversation focused the nation on his behavior, to be sure, but also on the broader question of the treatment of women.
Trump and his most ardent supporters brushed aside his remarks as locker room banter, but the very act of attempting to dismiss his comments carried with it, and then prompted, a vigorous denunciation of those remarks, attitudes and actions.
• A painful appraisal of the character of the two major political parties.
With the Democrats flirting with becoming the party of the national elites and the Republicans attracting support from blue-collar voters, the two parties are unmoored from their nearly century-old roots. This has prompted an identity crisis in two dimensions, with the two parties exchanging constituencies and even, on occasion, talking points.
• A fresh assessment of the place of immigrants and minorities in American life.
The election coincided with the publication of Tyler Anbinder’s stunning new book, “City of Dreams,” an epic history of immigration in New York. The book carries lessons, and inspiration, for a country created by immigrants but now facing difficult questions about their welcome here.
• A national debate about responsibility, loyalty and manners.
These issues are usually reserved for the family dinner hour, but it was in the Bill Clinton years, themselves marked by questions of sexual behavior and meditations about redemption, that they first moved into the political realm. The issues receded during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years, in part because they were resolutely traditional in their lifestyles and behavior.
The country is tired of this campaign, and for good reason. A remarkable poll, conducted for Colby College and the Boston Globe, found that nine Americans out of 10 agree that civility – “general politeness and respect” – is an important element of American life, with three Americans in four believing civility has been eroded in the past decade.
Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert who operates the Protocol School of Texas, based in Austin, said: “We usually don’t talk politics in our social lives but I think we are going to use this as an opportunity to say that certain behaviors are not acceptable, and that manners and civility simply have got to be restored.”