In the end, this most hallucinatory of presidential campaigns has come down to the bedrock of human considerations: men and women.
The astonishing mirror-image maps produced last week by polling expert Nate Silver – images showing that if only men were to vote, Donald Trump would win the election by a margin of 350-188 electoral votes, while if only women voted, Hillary Clinton would defeat Trump 458-80 - hint at what has been happening, in one form or another, to us all.
This is a referendum on much more than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It’s a referendum on two questions:
What does it mean to be a man? And what does it mean to be a woman?
It's been a year and a quarter since Donald Trump launched his campaign to make America a locker room again. A year and a quarter of the message: Be a real man. Vote for the guy who uses and treats and relates to women as though they were disposable playthings – his wives included. Vote for the guy who denigrates his male party colleagues – his teammates, in fact - as not virile enough, or too tied to their mothers, or simply too small to be president.
Be a real man, Trump exhorts, by backing the guy who said of the physical appearance of his female party colleague and teammate "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!"
In Trump's locker room of the mind, there is only room for one real man. He is the one who is manifestly more attractive, more aggressive, vastly more entitled, blindingly, obviously, unquestionably more successful than the rest of you poor slobs, whom he deigns to grace with his presence and his jabbing, dancing, mind-of-their-own fingers.
You can almost smell the chlorine fumes of the locker room creeping up the back of the national nose as Trump hits Vegas to refer his followers to a protester with the words "I'd like to punch him in the face."
Be a man. Vote for the guy who goes on to pine for "the old days" when protesters would be "carried out on stretchers."
I listened. I listened to all of it. And Donald Trump, if nothing else, has taught me a lot about what a real man is. And is not.
A real man, falling behind in a tough race, does not bawl and whine and throw tantrum after tantrum and squeeze his face into an inflated outsize crimson fist and screech "She's a cheater! She's cheating! And this whole thing is a fraud! And if she wins, somebody out there oughta think hard and serious about gunning her down! And if I win, well, then faster than anything, really soon, America will be great again! Thanks, you've all been tremendous!"
What does it mean to be a man in the America of Trump? And what does it mean to be a woman in the America of Hillary Clinton.
Last week, it fell to Michelle Obama to answer both questions, as she framed the entire campaign in one speech.
Nearing the end of the eight immensely rough years in which she has served as the very role model of a role model, she put forth the proposition that "the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls."
"The men that you and I know don’t treat women this way," she declared. "They are husbands and brothers and sons who don’t tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected. And like us, these men are worried about the impact this election is having on our boys who are looking for role models of what it means to be a man."
"Because let’s be very clear: strong men – men who are truly role models – don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together. And that is what we need in our next president."
One of the most distressing aspects of the campaign is how Trump supporters – women among them – have cast Hillary Clinton as the image of a harpy, a witch, most of all, a woman who can do no right. Guilty of exactly the kinds of behaviors praised when demonstrated by a Real Man.
In one example among many, consider the ideal of the contender who soldiers on without complaint, in the face of extreme hardship and infirmity.
In the case of Hillary Clinton a month ago, when she continued campaigning despite suffering from pneumonia, Trump proponents were merciless in condemnation. Where a woman is concerned, it appears, stoicism is proof of unworthiness.
"Hillary Clinton has sought to return to the old era of deception, in everything connected with her fragile, poor state of health," read a news analysis sub-headline in casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's strongly pro-Trump Israel Hayom newspaper.
"This is a condescending strategy, which will make it hard for her to mend her image of lack of trustworthiness. She may pay for this on Election Day."
Other commentators have been more direct.
In a recent Facebook post meant as a response to the revelations of Trump's vulgar characterizations of women, Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom columnist Ruthie Blum, a member of the first family of neo-conservatism - now split over the question of supporting Trump – wrote that "Hillary is a lying bitch, who vilified every woman who gave her husband a blow job.
"Hillary is just as much of a narcissist as Trump. And she is actually evil."
Meanwhile, in academia, Yale Computer Science Prof. David Galernter insists, in a bizarrely intriguing Wall Street Journal piece called "Trump and the Emasculated Voter," that the GOP candidate whom Galernter calls "Mr. Nauseating" is the right choice for America, after all.
"Nothing can stop Mr. Trump from shooting off his mouth, but that’s all right," he writes, sounding the war whoop of the locker room from the comfort of the Ivy League. "I want America’s enemies off-balance and guessing."
And while we're on the subject of gender equality, he writes in another context, "Since when did we decide that men and women are interchangeable in hand-to-hand combat on the front lines? Why do we insist on women in combat but not in the NFL? Because we take football seriously. That’s no joke; it’s the sad truth."
The fact is, we're all in uncharted territory here. Men and women both.
The fact is that a real woman who, throughout the course of her life, has raised her voice and worked, truly worked, for the sake of children with disabilities, for health and child care for children and for womens' rights, and who has a serious shot at becoming president of the United States, is something new for all of us.
The fact is, also, that dealing well with uncharted territory is part and parcel of what it means to be a real man.
It's time to man up. It's time to vote for the woman.
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