When I was in fifth grade, I suffered a humiliating episode of isolation. Something had happened between the two most popular girls in the class causing them to hate each other with a previously unparalleled venom.
Each girl began to draw allies to her side and against the other girl. Soon two distinct groups formed with all the girls in one group hating all the girls in the other group and vice versa.
Somehow, I managed to miss the drama of how it had all unfolded. Maybe I had been sick at home or just not paying attention on the playground. I wasn’t part of either group. But sadly, not for lack of trying.
Once the groups coalesced, I tried to join first one, then another. Neither group would have me. It was nice that nobody hated me enough to form a club of Nancy Haters, Inc. But I was sad that I couldn’t get into one of the clubs. I didn’t even care which one. I just wanted to fit in too.
Then the tension between the two groups mounted. One day, the sniping became yelling that flashed into a fist-fight between the main contenders. I can still conjure the image of two girls really trying to hurt each other.
The situation finally reached the radar screen of adults.
That afternoon, every girl in the class took her turn in the office. At last, I walked the hallway to give my accounting. Two women were present. One was our teacher, a tough, sometimes temperamental classroom veteran whom it was wise not to rile. The other was the school secretary, just about the sweetest lady ever.
Our class had managed to rile one and horrify the other.
Also present was a classmate. I don’t remember which one.
My teacher asked me which club I had joined. I manufactured a fantasy of the high road. I looked my classmate in the eye and said, “I found out what the clubs were about and decided I didn’t want to be part of either one.”
The other girl’s eyes locked with mine. She knew I had her. She could get me in trouble by telling the truth. But then she and all the other girls would be in even bigger trouble.
The adults bought it. My fake halo glowed.
Today, the two group leaders are professional women. The skills they cultivated as they built alliances with other schoolgirls served them well later on. They are the last ones you’d pick to have been in a fifth-grade fist fight. They contribute to their community. In short, they grew up.
This year’s election has all of the elements leading to a playground fist fight.
In fact, violence has been a rude guest of equal opportunism–appearing on behalf of multiple candidates.
Sniping, yelling, and assault–on social media and in person–are the order of the day. What can we do? What will we do when we have to become one nation again come the Wednesday after the election?
From Peggy Noonan: “Someone is going to win Tuesday and then, if trendlines that have proved reliable in the past continue, the sun will come up on Wednesday. (We claim this with a 3% margin of error.) We’ll go forward. We’re in a hard time and we’ll get through it. The country isn’t just split but unhappy with its choices and pessimistic as to its political future. . . . We’ll have to spend the next few years trying to get things in order and figure out how to create a better political reality.”
Wednesday will come. And half of us, perhaps even more than that, will believe the worst has happened. Then, we will have to decide whether we are fist fighting fifth-graders vying for playground dominance or grown-ups contributing to a better political reality.