His­tory might smile on this elec­tion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - David Shrib­man Colum­nist

The en­tire po­lit­i­cal world is in a swivet. Worst elec­tion ever. Hor­ri­ble can­di­dates. Shame­ful di­a­logue. Aw­ful 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, his­tory may look back on it as an im­por­tant mo­ment in the Amer­i­can pas­sage, and a 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 Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton bring their cam­paign ballistics to their wel­come con­clu­sion, we can hope that this elec­tion may be re­mem­bered for more than their caus­tic com­ments and their 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 overt forms.

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 of sex­ual ad­ven­tures 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 the at­ti­tudes and ac­tions they ex­pressed. By any mea­sure, the in­jec­tion of his com­ments into a White House cam­paign de­graded the po­lit­i­cal process -- but to­day hardly any­one can ar­gue that the coun­try is worse off for hav­ing con­fronted this is­sue and that the broader so­ci­ety is not sounder for the cen­sure his elicited.

-- 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 par­ties ex­chang­ing con­stituen­cies and even, on oc­ca­sion, talk­ing points.

The re­marks of two vet­eran po­lit­i­cal ob­servers un­der­line the cri­sis that both par­ties share.

The coun­try is tired of this cam­paign, and for good rea­son. A re­mark­able poll, con­ducted this month 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 eroded in the past decade.

The rate of Amer­i­cans over 65 -- some of whom first voted in the 1972 elec­tion, ex­pe­ri­enced the di­vi­sions of the Viet­nam War and then wit­nessed Water­gate -- be­liev­ing that pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns are worse than in the past is 97 per­cent. These days, there prob­a­bly isn’t any other ques­tion re­gard­ing Amer­i­can life -- prob­a­bly even whether ap­ple pie is a sat­is­fy­ing dessert -that would win the sup­port of 97 per­cent of any sam­ple.

“We are very aware of be­hav­ior right now,” said Diane Gotts­man, a na­tional eti­quette ex­pert who op­er­ates the Pro­to­col School of Texas, based in Austin. “This has been a con­tentious cam­paign, and we live in a civil world and have cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions and stan­dards. Ev­ery cam­paign has is­sues, but in this one, rea­son­able man­ners, ci­vil­ity and stan­dards haven’t been met. 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.”

David M. Shrib­man is ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the PostGazette (dshrib­man@postgazette.com, 412 263-1890). Fol­low him on Twit­ter at Shrib­manPG.

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