You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.
And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to have only 11,000 people — now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.
Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable. But thankfully they are not America.
But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.
Where is the lie?
This is a quote from Hillary Clinton speaking this week — and last week, and pretty much all the time since she outlined this argument, in longer form, in her devastating Reno speech, which was basically a Grand Jury indictment of Donald Trump for all of his “deplorable,” immoral appeals to hate.
“Deplorable” is a fancy word. Let’s just call it something simpler: sin.
We’re supposed to deplore sin. To do otherwise is to become complicit in it.
No one has refuted any of what Clinton outlined in that Reno speech. The fact-checkers checked the facts and confirmed that they are, in fact, facts. But we didn’t need fact-checkers for this — the facts she marshaled and listed in that speech are things we are all fully capable of remembering. We watched them ourselves, on TV and online, over just the past few months. And we can remember what we ourselves have witnessed in recent months. We know what we saw and heard and read. There is no reasonable dispute about any of that.
Donald Trump’s whole campaign has included — and centered on — a baldly bigoted appeal to the worst instincts of nativism and racism, religious discrimination, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee resentment, contempt for the weak, and every variation of Us vs. Them divisiveness you can imagine.
This isn’t primarily a partisan campaign. Trump’s nativist populism and naked racism is congruent with a strain of Republican politics that goes back to the Southern Strategy, the conversion of the Dixiecrats, Frank Rizzo, etc. But in 2016, it was how Donald Trump defeated the Republicans. It’s how he beat Jeb and Marco and all the rest of ’em.
That strategy worked for Trump because, as Hillary Clinton said, “Unfortunately, there are people like that.” There always have been. Clinton is correct that they are not the entirety of America, or the whole of America, or the best of America — but they have always been a part of America.
And Donald Trump has, in fact, lifted them up. He has, undeniably in fact, tweeted and retweeted and amplified their views, using his national platform as a candidate to give their views a more respectable national platform. He has appealed to that part of America and he is seeking to make it the dominant part, the controlling part. He wants to make the rest of America conform to it and submit to it.
After Steve Bannon turned his far-right Breitbart News site into an explicit clearinghouse for “alt-right” white supremacist ideology — going so far as to get rid of some of the site’s most prominent ultra-conservative Jewish writers — after that, Donald Trump hired Bannon to run his campaign. Bannon hasn’t run a national presidential campaign before, but instead of turning to any of the many very conservative Republicans with greater expertise and experience, Trump turned to the alt-right champion who has a problem with Jews. And Trump chose him because he is an alt-right champion. It’s not like Bannon is some multi-faceted guy whose reputation is based on many different things. He’s the alt-right guy. That’s his thing. And if you choose to hire the alt-right guy, that’s why.
Again, this is all documented, witnessed, televised. We saw this happen. We are seeing this happen right now. We have borne witness and we are bearing witness. Trump’s Twitter feed with it’s endless litany of white supremacist retweets is still live, still public, and not a matter of dispute or question.
But, as Hillary noted, Trump’s appeals to bald racism do not account for the entirety of his support. There’s also that “other basket.” Here Clinton is simply summarizing what we’ve all seen and read in thousands of articles debating the interplay between racism and “economic anxiety” in Trump’s support. Some have argued, compellingly, that one or the other is the dominant feature of that support. Clinton splits the difference — some of Trump’s supporters love the deplorable sin, she says, but not all of them.
Those others, she says — both calling for and demonstrating empathy — “don’t buy everything he says” when he’s spouting off about Mexicans, or supposedly wretched black communities, or families fleeing war, or Gold Star families, or people with disabilities, or women. They’re not focused on that and they’re not responding to his deplorable, sinful appeals to nativist hatred. Those people, Hillary Clinton says, can be reached and persuaded. And, more importantly, she says those people can be, and will be, helped when she becomes president.
Again, where is the lie? Where, in any of that, is there any credible grounds for offense, umbrage, or indignation?
Steve Bannon and his horde aren’t offended. They don’t care if Hillary Clinton or anyone else finds their white supremacy to be deplorable. They think she’s deplorable for opposing their white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee ideology. And they’re happy to have that fight. Alt-right websites were overjoyed by Clinton’s Reno speech. The only alt-right types who were upset by that speech were those who felt neglected because she hadn’t called them out specifically by name.
I’m guessing they wished she had used a clumsier phrase — something less indelibly precise than “basket of deplorables” — but they’ve been very pleased ever since Reno to be enjoying the prominence and semi-respectability that comes from being routinely denounced by a major national figure.
What about those other Trump supporters? The ones Hillary clearly and generously distinguished as wholly separate from the “basket of deplorables”? They, too, have just been given the very thing they’ve been asking for. They’ve long insisted that it’s not fair to lump them in with Bannon and Milo and Roger Stone and all the Confederate-flag-waving bigots shouting hateful things and threatening violence. They’ve spent months pleading not to be categorized as bigots just because they’re supporting Donald Trump.
And here is herself, Hillary Clinton, explicitly agreeing with them and granting them exactly the exemption they’ve been demanding.
So those folks — the other basket — also have no basis, no cause, for taking honest offense.
They may, of course, choose to take dishonest offense. That’s always an option for those so inclined. Indignation is a hell of a drug, and some people are addicts — compelled to seek, invent and fabricate fantastical reasons for taking offense on a daily basis. But for the kind of people who choose to take dishonest offense, it doesn’t matter that Hillary hasn’t provided any credible reason for them to do so.
Yet despite this — despite the fact that honest offense is not a possibility here, for anyone — Clinton’s comments are being portrayed by some pundits as a “gaffe” that is sure, somehow, to cause others to take offense and to hurt her chances on election day.
That theory goes like this: The full context of Clinton’s statement doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that her statement was accurate and factually true, or that the accuracy of her statement is something we are all now and have been eyewitnesses to for months. None of that matters because Clinton’s political foes will be taking her words out of context and pretending they meant something else. Since that fragmentary perversion of her words will seem offensive, the effect is the same as if she had just actually said something that was actually offensive or untrue.
This handwringing is presented as a savvy and sophisticated, worldly wise lamentation. The premise of this savvy and sophisticated view is that the accuracy and actual context of her words do not matter. Others will lie about what she said and pretend she said something else, so we — as savvy and sophisticated pundits — must play along with that lie and also pretend it matters more than her actual words. And given that the lie now being told about what Clinton said is the sort of thing she would have to apologize for had she really said anything of that kind, then the only thing left now is for Clinton to take the savvy and sophisticated option and apologize as though she had said what they said she said.
All that dishonesty there? That dismissing of context? That perversion of words? That preoccupation with the idea that a dishonest, hostile perversion of her words should take precedence over the unmistakable actual words and their unmistakable actual meaning? That’s also a sin. And it’s also deplorable.
So if you’re playing along — if you’re clutching your pearls and wringing your hands and fretting that “Oh, what-they’re-saying-she-said-even-though-it’s-clearly-not-what-she-said is just awful!“? You’re sinning. You’re lying — primarily to yourself, because only you and those others playing along in the lie find any of that “concern” convincing. You’ve fallen down a hole of dishonest pretension and feigned indignation and if you don’t crawl back out of it, any authentic version of you may disappear forever.