What a zoo! With a critical presidential election now only three weeks away, the brickbats are flying everywhere. It’s like that critical moment when two warring groups of kids come swarming out from behind their snow forts, laden with ammunition, and charge recklessly at each other. The difference is that after these nivean climaxes, the two sides make up.

A line from an old summer camp song, “The Titanic,” keeps running through my mind: “Oh, the captain tried to wire, but the wires were all on fire. It was sad ...” So much of the attention of our various media is currently devoted to covering the insults, the stunts, the outrageous statements, the assumed conspiracies and the undisclosed facts that the more substantive issues have been sidetracked. I suspect almost every citizen’s mind is made up — many thousands of us have, in fact, already voted — and none of this nasty contumely will change the result. The danger is that the memories, and anger, may linger on.

I have “friends” on Facebook whose views I feel I need to hear, but with whom I’d likely not hobnob anywhere else. There are some who seem truly to believe our current president, whose “mark is on his forehead,” is ushering in the Apocalypse. (I can only hope.) Others deplore the “fact” that the practice of Christianity is a felony in some jurisdictions. (Pressed to identify those locations, they issue the standard dodge: “Look it up.”)

Camouflage-clad white men, usually beefy and bearded, display assault-type weapons across their chests with the invitation, “You want it? Come and get it!” (It’s hard not to point out that the camouflage, unlike some of Beetle Bailey’s efforts, doesn’t match the background, and is actually more of a Halloween costume than an effort to be invisible.) Some think the president’s visit to Walter Reed Hospital was a charade, abetted by the White House osteopath; others deplore the presumed cost of his presumed care, unavailable to the rest of us; a third group thinks him an Übermensch; and still another hopes he’ll keel over when the drugs wear off. Insults fly thick as ordnance at a cavalry charge; but the only real injury I can detect so far is a serious erosion of the sense that we’re all in this together. I can only hope that it isn’t permanent.

Much like the parable of the weeds and wheat in the Gospel of Matthew, an enemy (for who else could wish us ill?) has sown seeds of fear in our fields, and we’re responding with depressingly predictability. Some state governors apparently fear the power of minorities, and have made it increasingly difficult or intimidating for them to vote. The president has often declared that the only way he can lose this election “is if it’s rigged,” which sets the stage for challenging the results, which could end up in the Supreme Court, which, coincidentally ...”

With these horrific scenarios looming, is it any wonder some of us are trying to look beyond the entanglements, arguments, lawsuits and perhaps weeks of running in mud, toward some open, airy, positive ground beyond? The fear has sprouted and infected us all, if to different degrees. But it will kill us eventually. So what’s to be done about it?

The current administration didn’t invent the loathsome, but latent, traits that have emerged from hiding during its tenure. But it has — as Joe Biden has said — given it oxygen. So the question naturally arises: Will different leadership create a different society? The United States is no more or less diverse, racially and ethnically, than it has been for more than a hundred years. Can a calmer hand at the helm assuage the obvious anxieties that create gangs of armed white men? Can police (and their leaders; I’m thinking of Sheriff Leaf of Shelbyville, Michigan) be trained to use their heads before their authority? Can a national leader calmly explain the inevitable result of gross inequality and persuade (or coerce) the rich and powerful to do their fair share?

“The long national nightmare is over,” declared Gerald Ford in his inaugural address. That was nothing compared to this tangle. But without meaning to seem Pollyanna-ish, is it foolish to hope that when it’s over, we can find within ourselves the intelligence to be neither sore losers nor preening winners, and together try to get this battered vessel of ours through the storms ahead?

Willem Lange is a regular contributor to Weekend magazine. He lives in East Montpelier.

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