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The Nasty and Divisive 2016 Election Could Have One Surprising Upside

Campaign 2016 Ohio Early VotingCampaign 2016 Ohio Early Voting
A line of early voters waits outside the Franklin County Board of Elections, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Photograph by John Minchillo—AP

Regardless of who you’re rooting for in the election, what matters now is what happens on November 9th.

“Tomorrow, you can vote for a hopeful, inclusive, big-hearted America,” Hillary Clinton told a crowd in Pittsburgh yesterday. And that’s the real challenge for tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

We’ve learned a lot about ourselves this campaign season. The anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, misogynist, and racist rhetoric that’s been embraced by some in the Donald Trump campaign has allowed similarly divisive ideas to tumble out of our neighbors, co-workers, and loved ones. Donald Trump elevated white supremacists and courted the favor of LGBT hate groups. He’s mocked the unmockable, like Gold Star families and people with disabilities. Anti-semitism is on the rise. Real world friends have severed their digital ties.

But I would argue that there’s actually a gift buried in all of this, the same one that’s at the heart of the work that all of you do.

Stay with me, I can defend this.

Consider the mostly white working poor—or working-worried, really—who have become nightly characters on campaign television. Many are right when they say they’ve been forgotten by generations of politicians from both camps, no matter how inelegantly they sometimes say it. They feel excluded from a country that’s changing in ways that they may not precisely understand. And now we see them. What next?

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I would point to new research from Catalyst, a leading non-profit focused on the workplace, that highlights how painful life can be for people who feel like “the other.” It’s about inclusion in the workplace, but I suggest that the findings are relevant everywhere.

Bottom line, the feeling of being excluded tends to overshadow all other feelings about our lives and work. “If inclusion is the air we breathe, exclusion is suffocating,” says the report The Day-To-Day of Experiences of Workplace Inclusion and Exclusion.

The cost of feeling excluded was cumulative, and ultimately, very painful. “Most people can easily recall the stories about feeling dismissed at work, and they build up over time,” said Dr. Dnika Travis, one of the co-authors. “Bottom line, when inclusion works, you don’t see it. But when you feel excluded, it’s all you feel.”

And that’s what many Trump supporters feel. Ironically, they’re not alone. They’re joined by people from communities that are over-policed and under-resourced. By children of color who are tagged from the start as problems, or worse. By people from countries with rich cultures who are ignored or met with suspicion.

When people feel excluded, it’s time to extend a welcome. Even a small one. That’s what inclusive leadership is.


As I head to the polls, I’m reminded of the sage advice offered by Mandell Crawley, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Marketing Officer: We don’t have to accept the premise that one group has to lose for another one to win.

“It’s unfortunate that in the current environment, we’re being forced into positions where we’re choosing sides,” he says. “Like if you’re a supporter of Black Lives Matter, you don’t believe that all lives matter.” Or that you can’t both respect the police and want them to be held accountable. Reject that thinking, he says: “You can find some empathy for someone else.”

If inclusive leadership lies at the heart every conversation we have with others, then we have hundreds of daily opportunities to let others know that they are seen and valued, even if they’re waving an ugly sign in our face. But the work isn’t easy. So maybe it’s time to invent something new. We’ve clearly mastered the micro-aggression. Why not the ‘micro-inclusion’? Or better yet, the ‘micro-welcome’?

From that point of view, the best inclusive response to the angry shout of “All lives matter” is to say, “Okay, well, let’s start with yours.” I’m going to give it a try today.

Go vote, and good luck. And never forget: You’re welcome.


Ellen McGirt is a senior editor at Fortune.