It Ain’t Necessarily Fake

2018-01-22 – Many liberals continue to brand Trump voters as “deplorables.” This term, of course, came from an ill-advised statement made by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign that said:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, 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. 

I say “ill-advised” because this quote gives a grossly distorted picture of what Clinton was trying to say. Clinton spoke of two baskets. We’ll get to the second basket in a moment. But first, I want to say that the press latched onto this first basket. And the Trump campaign was giddy. They had a sound bite that supported their assertion that Crooked Hillary was an elitist and they pounded this day-in and day-out. And many of Clinton’s supporters were fine with that. “Yeah,” they said, “they are all deplorable.”

But that’s not what Clinton said. She said there were two baskets. Only one basket was deplorable. The other? Let’s see what she actually said:

[T]he 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.

Clinton was never able to connect with this other basket. If she had, even with a few, she would be president today.

Trump had two notes in his campaign and both were pegged exactly in Clinton’s statement. He appealed to the “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” And he appealed to the “people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down.”

And he’s still doing it. That’s why he is buddy-buddy with white supremacists. And that’s why he’s still tweeting about Crooked Hillary. And many in the #Resistance are still buying the idea that they are all deplorable.

They are not.

Fortunately, there are some voices who say, we’ve got to listen to the people in Hillary’s second basket. You can be outraged at what Trump and the GOP elite are doing and still listen to what Trump’s supporters are saying. Dan Rather does this. And last week, on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, the New York Times published letters by Trump supporters who are happy with the past year. You can read them for yourself. (Trump supporters who are happy. – Trump supporters who are unhappy. – Debate over the NYT decision to publish these letters.) While there’s some #fakenews in these letters, it’s not all like that. We assume that, because Trump himself is such a liar, his supporters must be liars, too. But read through them. It ain’t necessarily fake. Here are a few points I found in their letters that I think are worth pondering:

  • “[F]oreign tyrants are afraid, ISIS has lost most of its territory, our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.” – While I think that foreign tyrants are pretty happy with Trump, I also think that many people are genuinely afraid of foreign tyrants and terrorist. That part is not fake. Trump has even suggested that part of the problem is American interventionism, which I would agree with. But he’s erratic and can’t be trusted. Our foreign friends are more afraid than the foreign tyrants.
  • “[T]he entrenched interests in Washington, which have done nothing but glad-hand one another . . . are angry and afraid.” – This is not a fake view. Washington is largely run by corporate money and it’s not deplorable to wish that system to change. Sad to say, Trump isn’t smashing this system. He’s exploiting it.
  • “[He] has removed a number of wasteful regulations [and] has reined in a number of out-of-control agencies,” – While Trump’s accomplishments in this area are awful, I have to ask why Democrats are unable to counter this assertion. This is not a fake view and it’s not inherently racist or sexist, etc. We need to talk to people like this, not write them off.
  • “[B]ecause of Mr. Trump we have an education secretary who actually cares more about educating children than appeasing the teachers’ unions.” – Poppycock. But listen to what he says. He doesn’t like the educational system or unions. The Democratic Party has abandoned unions, so no wonder people don’t like them. And the educational system is a dead-end for so many.
  • “As a child of the ’60s I admire his iconoclastic nature, optimism and unapologetic humanity. . . . He does ruffle feathers.” – I was a child of the ‘60s, too. Remember “trust no one over 30”? We on the left have a streak of anti-establishmentariansim. We ought to be able to connect with someone like this. Ask Susan Sarandon.
  • “The more chaos, the better!” – Ask Abbie Hoffman.
  • “I’m thrilled at his support for Israel.” – Oy vey! This view is not fake and is incredibly sad to me, because I don’t think Trump’s the guy and Netanyahu is as bad as Trump or worse. Don’t get me started.
  • “I’ve seen [my hometown] . . . succumb to a despair reflected by the opioid crisis. I have seen Republicans and Democrats sell out through a false dogma of free trade. I have seen my friends sent abroad to foreign lands with ill-defined military missions, coming back mangled or not at all. I have seen a political class eager to replace a working class with an imported labor class, driving down wages.” – What is deplorable about this? It’s not fake. Drugs are a scourge both of small-town America and the inner city. Job-loss to corporate greed affects both. And the children of both who seek a way out through the military are abandoned. Are you telling me that Democrats can’t put forward progressive solutions to these problems? Take a look at my post from last April on the subject of economic development, for example. Trump is doing nothing.

And so on.

These are not deplorable views. These are things that we can listen to and engage with. Trump made promises to these people, but has abandoned them. We need to be able to listen if we ever hope to win these people back.

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