During the days leading up to the second presidential debate and the days following it, the miasma enveloping the run-up to Nov. 8 had become a fetid brume most of us have been trying to avoid.
But on Thursday, a breath of fresh air in the form of Michelle Obama swept away the occluding gloom and delivered what might have been the most eloquent and courageous message we are liable to hear for quite some time.
"It is cruel. It's frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts. It's like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you're walking down the street minding your own business and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin."
The First Lady, of course, was speaking of the tenor of Donald Trump's campaign, though she didn't mention him by name, during her speech at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Manchester, N.H.
"It's that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them, or forced himself on them and they've said no but he didn't listen — something that we know happens on college campuses and countless other places every single day. It reminds us of stories we heard from our mothers and grandmothers about how, back in their day, the boss could say and do whatever he pleased to the women in the office, and even though they worked so hard, jumped over every hurdle to prove themselves, it was never enough."
As she noted, women have made enormous strides over the years, but here we are, in 2016, as the cockroaches come out of their hidey-holes, declaring we are all just too politically correct or, more offensively to men who are, in current parlance, "woke," that boys will be boys and it's all just locker room talk.
"(H)ow is this affecting men and boys in this country?" asked Mrs. Obama. "Because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere. The men that you and I know don't treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. 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."
Those of us who are raising or have raised boys into men, know the difficulties facing our children, awash in a culture of clashing symbols and signals; on one hand, be yourself, be exotic and sensitive and sensual and on the other be strong and tough and able to face down the bullies in our midst. We confront the demons in society and in ourselves and hope to impart upon our boys respect for themselves and respect for others, especially the women in their lives.
And then we have to explain to them men like Donald Trump and his apologists. They are prime examples of an avaricious patriarchy that is gasping its final noxious exhalations on its way to the dust bin of history. Unfortunately, this "Father knows best," "Marlboro Man" mentality has saddled us with a legacy of toxic masculinity and aggrieved male entitlement. Protecting our sons and daughters from the miserable consequences of being forced into little boxes of affectation is a full-time job. But what choice do we have? To not dedicate ourselves to illuminating the misogynistic darkness cast over our existence would mean condemning our sons and daughters to a perdition of un-realized potential, violence and frustrated aspiration.
"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," said Mrs. Obama. And yes, while she was there pitching for Hillary, we would all be well advised to heed her advice and put her words into action. For ourselves, our children, and our nation.