This awful but illuminating campaign
I have a man in mind. He is in his 60s, successful, handsome in his way with a commanding voice, an apartment in the city, a place in the country and a driver to take him there. Before I had ever met him, I knew him by reputation. So, in a far different way, did lots of women. At a dinner party, his hands roam under the table.
After I learned about that man, I started to ask around. I asked women not just about him but about their dinner party experiences in general. Many reported being groped under the table, but not once did the burble of conversation get interrupted by the crack of a slap to the cheek. Women suffered in silence.
Now that silence has been broken. The various and sundry accusations concerning Donald Trump -- that he was a grabber and a groper, a lunger and a black belt in the quick feel -- have encouraged countless other women to speak up. From what I am reading and from what I am hearing, it turns out that what Trump -- as well as Bill Clinton -- stands accused of is not quite as unique as I would have once believed. For a woman, a dinner party, a job interview, a ride on the subway, a minute in an elevator, a walk down the street serenaded by catcalls -- all this can be a different experience than it is for a man.
This has been an awful presidential campaign. But it has been elucidating, too. We have gotten a glimpse into the secret world of some men -- their sense of sexual entitlement, their fleeting infidelity on the cheap, so-called "locker room talk" that would get you ridiculed in an actual locker room -- all this bubbling up from the ooze of this election. It has not just been the secret of these men that they behave this way; it has also been the secret of women, too. They have known of these men. Now we all do.
The campaign also illuminated the Black Lives Matter movement and brought it to a wider audience. It convinced many Americans that the police are too prone to arrest black men or even to shoot them. This is a contentious area of warring statistics, but in the end it's not about numbers at all. The fact remains that black men experience a world that white men do not. As a journalist, I have known of this for decades, but not the extent of it nor its emotional or psychic costs. This, too, bubbled up over the past year and became part of the presidential campaign.
Similarly, Trump's startling candidacy has highlighted the angst of an American demographic -- mostly male, mostly white, mostly without a college degree -- that the economy and the culture have left behind. It is easy and, of course, appropriate to condemn some of his supporters for condoning Trump's views -- anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-woman -- but attention has to be paid to some of the underlying causes. They reflect not just a culture of resentment, but an economic blight that has toppled jobs as if they were corn stalks in a field. These people will benefit from the attention this campaign has focused on them -- especially if their man loses.
In this election, too, we hear Hillary Clinton talking about the fight for LGBTQ rights, a kaleidoscope of sexual preferences and identities that just yesterday were hardly discussed -- even acknowledged. I am struck by the plight of transgender people and their right to be who they want to be -- or, more mundanely, to use their public restroom of choice. Not so long ago, many Americans were barely aware of their existence. Now, they are a plank in Clinton's platform.
Watching Trump can be both entertaining and frightening, but listening to his defenders -- Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Reince Priebus -- is just plain sickening. It's not that they lack the courage of their convictions. It's that they have no convictions at all.
But along the way lessons are imparted. The indignation of women has come rolling out of this campaign. First one woman spoke out and then another and another, all of them decrying a condition that no man would put up with -- and no man should inflict. That man of my acquaintance, the one who eats with one hand and marauds with another, can now realize what he looks like to others -- a pumpkin-tinged vulgarian with odd hair who will never be president but will always be a creep.
Richard Cohen's email address is email@example.com.
© 2016, Washington Post Writers Group