Just a few days before the end of the corrosive 2016 election, it occured to me that no matter what the outcome, our social fabric has been shredded by the ugliness of this campaign.
Sure, there have been ugly campaigns before, but this one has revealed the extent to which racism and sexism are acceptable features of life in these United States.
Women, including Hillary Clinton, have been routinely disparaged, not only in politics, but also in their roles as television talking heads and anchors. While I’m not weeping for Megyn Kelley (she’s a big girl, and she can take care of herself), her on-air collision with Newt Gingrich was classic, with a jowly male bully loudly talking over a television host and accusing her of being “obsessed” with sex.
And the disparagement of women flowed down the ticket—in Illinois, Sen. Mark Kirk had the nerve to disparage challenger Tammy Duckworth because of her Thai heritage. Her dad traces his family’s military service back to the 18th century, while her Mom is from Thailand. When she cited her military background, Kirk nastily said he was unaware that her family had come all the way from Thailand to fight for the U.S. Shame on Kirk for demonstrating his ignorance by criticizing the military service of a woman who lost both her legs in the Iraq war.
All’s fair, they say, in love and war, and many see politics as a special kind of war. And certainly, those women who play the politics game have to have thick skins and broad shoulders because men are not likely to treat women with kid gloves because of their gender. However, gendered criticism (she lacks stamina, look at that face) is woven into the fabric of our nation’s racist patriarchy, and the “other” (women, people of color) is often put down using gendered or racialized code words. In some cases, as with Tammy Duckworth, people don’t even bother to use code words.
The backlash from eight years of the Obama Presidency means that plenty of racists have come out to play. I thought we’d seen the last of David Duke, the reported KKK member who is again running for the Senate from Louisiana. Instead, he seems to have slithered from under some rock, just in time to endorse Donald Trump, throw shade on Evan McMullin (the Utah native and former CIA operative who is running a long-shot campaign for president), and attack Jewish people. Most listeners recoiled from Duke’s hateful words, and the Trump campaign quickly distanced itself from the Duke endorsement. It is shocking, though, that this level of racist hate is so openly articulated. And Mr. Trump’s racial rhetoric suggests that the Duke endorsement, if unwelcome, was at least somewhat consistent with that which Mr. Trump has been preaching.
The use of terms like “law and order” or “stop and frisk” ignores the issues the Black Lives Matter movement has raised, not the least of which is the police killings of young Black people. And the Black Lives Matter movement has routinely been disparaged during this 2016 campaign. The disparagement of the BLM movement really disparages all Black people and reminds us that, despite progress, race still matters.
If racism and sexism are woven into the fabric of our nation, how do we pull those threads out without ruining the fabric? Or has the fabric already been so fully shredded that we have the opportunity to “start over?” Actually, there will be no starting over. Our economic structure and the credo of predatory capitalism depend on the ability of capitalists to extract surplus value from the work of those that are “other.”
Capitalists maximize profits by minimizing expenses. Thus enslavement, although an inhumane institution, was also an efficient system for those who were able to use free labor. We’ve come a long way from enslavement, but the exploitation of workers continues, which is why the “Fight for $15,” which will disproportionately benefit women and people of color, is so important.
This 2016 election has put many of our national wounds, and much of our fractured history, on display.
Is there healing after all of this divisiveness? Washington gridlock isn’t likely to stop just because the election is over. Still, there must be leaders who are willing to talk solutions. When does our nation finally confront race and talk about reparatory justice? When do we, culturally, talk about sexism and the pay gap that remains, despite women’s progress? Or will we continue to limp along, wounds exposed, the fabric so frayed that it can’t be stitched back together?