Pundits and social media posters are scratching their collective heads wondering how the polls and political junkies “got it all wrong.” Most of my friends are stunned – they have been saying since the first Republican debate that Trump could never win.
I was never so sure.
Remember all the analysts and commentators who treated his primary campaign as a joke? They proclaimed there was no way Trump could get the nomination and seemed to appreciate how his antics provided easy fodder for their professional commentaries. #ratings
When Trump mocked a disabled journalist, I cringed. I still do.
When he talked about building a wall because of Mexican murderers and rapists, I cringed some more at the mere possibility of a Trump nomination. My friends told me to calm down. They said I should not worry about something that could never transpire.
After Trump won the nomination, people continued telling me not to worry. As the election got closer, they told me to look at the polls and relax. After all, Hillary had so many paths to victory.
Then we heard the pussy-grabbing tape. We all cringed. Well, almost all. Still, when I said I was not so sure Trump wouldn’t be elected anyway, most people told me not to fret so much.
I kept my fingers crossed that I was over-reacting – but I kept cringing. Here’s why.
I have taught classes about anti-harassment and diversity for nearly twenty years. After talking to thousands of workers – from entry-level to executive and everything in-between — I knew for a fact that there is an ugly under-current of bias, racism and misogyny in the Good Ol’ US of A. It has lurked under the surface all the time – because those with the most hateful and disrespectful attitudes knew they would face scorn if they openly expressed “non-PC thoughts.” Instead, they griped to me privately after classes and then stopped griping when they saw I disagreed with their views despite my pale skin and male genitalia.
After Trump was nominated, the ugly under-current rose to the surface like an oil slick. Here is a sampling of recent comments made in my classes:
- Anti-harassment and diversity policies are designed to keep white people down.
- Harassment programs create a glass ceiling for men, eliminating them from promotions and career success by allowing women to derail them with a single complaint.
- Discrimination laws keep “qualified white people” from achieving their full potentials while enabling “unworthy minorities and foreigners to steal their opportunities.”
- Anti-harassment policies make young men “afraid to be real men.”
A few days after the infamous “pussy grabbing” comment went public, I was teaching an anti-harassment class and came to this point that I have covered without incident for years: although most cases of illegal harassment involve a pattern of bad behavior, there are some types of conduct where a single incident is enough to support a claim. This is not new or controversial. It has been a well-established part of anti-harassment law for decades. In all that time, no one had ever before challenged the point in any of my classes (probably because it is so obvious and even people who thought harassment laws were stupid agreed with it).
In classes, I provide these examples of the types of conduct that are so severe, “once is enough” to be illegal harassment:
- Severe intimidation (i.e. threats of death of assault);
- Actual assault;
- Forcible kissing;
The first time I reached that point in a class after the pussy-grabbing headlines, people gasped. Eyes went wide and expressions froze. One guy complained that I was “being political” by highlighting the word “grope” even though I mentioned no body parts. I explained that he was mistaken and that this had been part of my classes for a long time. He replied that I should stop making Trump “look bad” because he was going to be our next president. I put a stop to the detour from our class’s agenda and moved on with the training.
By the way: I was not trying to make Trump look bad. He was doing that all by himself.
Many people are thrilled with the election results. Many are struggling and many are scared – scared of discrimination, scared of violence and scared of a rolling-back of their civil rights. Count me among the strugglers. In addition to the fears of violence, discrimination and bullying that are being reported so widely, and my self-centered worry that federal recognition of my marriage could be erased, I fear for common civility.
A strong theme of my harassment and diversity training is that everyone – EVERYONE – is entitled to think whatever he or she wants to think. You hate gay people and think same-sex marriage should be repealed? It is your right to think so. Same thing if you hate a different race, despise a certain religion or even if you think sex between humans and dolphins (or whatever) should be allowed. Go ahead and think whatever you want – just keep such thoughts to yourself when you are at work.
For years, I have told class members to think whatever they want to think but to also remember that just because you think it does not mean you should say it. I tell students all the time that they can think whatever they want to think as long as they behave in a civil and respectful manner toward co-workers. In other words, you don’t have to actually respect your co-workers but you do have to conduct yourself in a respectful manner toward all of them.
Many of my clients have had success stories thanks to that lesson. For example, several years ago one of my clients asked for my help with resolving a conflict that appeared to be heading toward termination of two highly skilled employees. These two employees needed to cooperate on sensitive projects, but they hated each other and told the employer that they would not work together. One was very religious and the other was a gay atheist. The religious employee wanted nothing to do with the gay atheist and vice versa. They both made rude comments about the other (“religious nut” and “deviate” come to mind). I thought the solution was simple, and it was.
We told both employees to shut up. We said it in professional and respectful terms: “You may not say that at work again and if you do, you will be subject to discipline up to and including termination.” We said the same thing to both employees. They both objected.
“I will never respect that person,” they both said.
- “You don’t have to,” we replied. “You just have to behave in a respectful and professional manner.”
“I don’t like that person and I disagree with everything about them,” they both said.
- “You have an absolute right to your opinions,” we replied, “but you still have to do your job and treat your co-worker in a respectful manner.”
“They don’t respect my faith/civil rights,” they complained.
- “They don’t have to,” we answered, “although they do have to behave in a civil and respectful manner toward you.”
And so on. Both employees heard the same message and both were held to the same standard. The two never became best buddies, but they did discover that they shared a few things in common. They knew their jobs and did them well. They never grew to truly like each other, but they discovered that they worked well together. Deadlines were met, clients were happy and salaries were increased at each review.
I cringe when I try to imagine how that situation would play out today. When a large segment of a presidential candidate’s supporters openly make hateful comments based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical abilities — when the candidate himself used nationality as a basis for accusations of rape, murder and judicial bias – why would employees listen when we tell them that they have to behave differently at work?
Before you accuse me of holding an opinion that I do not have, I do not believe that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or a misogynist or a hater. I am simply dismayed that voters would not disqualify a person from the presidency who expressed racist and hateful views.
There is a gravestone in Key West that declares, “I Told You I Was Sick.” I have often wondered if the woman buried beneath it had been frustrated that no one took her seriously. I also wondered if she ignored her symptoms because no one else seemed worried.
Now I don’t wonder how she felt. It must have been similar to having an entire cocktail party stare at me with amused disbelief when I said in August of 2015, “I think he could be nominated and win.”