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Hillary Clinton’s recent disparagement of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables” was an error on many levels. It was a political error, worthy indeed of Donald Trump at his most vain, where Hillary chose to slander a segment of the American electorate in order to bask in the laughter of her audience – thereby violating the sound political principle that you are best to criticize your opponent, not his supporters.
Her joke was a moral error in its condescension and hatred toward a distant and largely unknown rabble upon whom she and her howling acolytes projected their own hatred in the form of a mostly imagined racism.
Most crucially though, Clinton’s slash at the Trump deplorables constitutes an error of analysis. Because Hillary’s remark embodies the elite view – indeed the elite gestalt – within which Donald Trump’s supporters are mostly aging white people bitter about the waning of their economic and cultural influence and animated by their hatred of Blacks and gays and Hispanics and Muslims. Whereas the truth is that Trump’s supporters – while they may indeed possess varying levels of prejudice and provincial bigotry toward those and other minorities – are in fact animated by their hatred of those elites (and their condescension).
No one can question that the job of policing and purging the Trump campaign of its racist fringe elements – and they are fringe elements – falls to Trump supporters themselves. Many conservative #NeverTrump pundits, for example, have lamented the anti-Semitic cranks – part of the infamous “alt-right” – and their online vitriol. These idiots do not help the cause.
But speaking as a physicist with an unusually multicultural pedigree and as a Trump delegate with extensive travels in the campaign circles, I can say I have seen almost nothing of the intolerant, jaundiced malice toward people of a different hue that supposedly afflicts half of the Trump constituents.
The error inherent in Clinton’s basket of deplorables remark (which has been loudly seconded by many liberal columnists even at respectable media outlets) is, I believe, a failure of imagination resulting from life in the echo chamber of the left.
What I mean is this: If you cannot conceive of any legitimate grounds for criticizing the moral purity of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, then the argument that movement-inspired harassing of police has in fact cost many more Black lives at the hands of criminals than it has saved at the hands of the police, will appear to you as nothing more than veiled racism.
If hundreds of thousands of children and fatherless “family units” flooding our southern border and entering the US essentially with impunity does not concern you; if you are insulated from the impact of lowering wages, overcrowded emergency rooms, trashed public parks and the existence of a lawless underground which shuns the police – all of which unrestricted illegal immigration spawns – then you are likely to view those who insist that illegal aliens should be returned to their home country and we should build a wall to stem the flow as mere haters of brown people.
If you view the Orlando Pulse massacre as the product of an aberrant mind with no origin in the Islamic faith, or the proliferating sexual assaults in Europe as the nagging problem of a dispossessed but mostly benign migrant population, or the reaffirmed fatwa – complete with millions of dollars of bounty – on Salman Rushdie as a symbolic gesture by the Iranian Mullahs of no real concern, then the plan to put future US visa applicants to an ideological test as to whether they support honor killings or execution of homosexuals or stoning of adulterers will probably strike you as hateful and xenophobic.
Seeing Trump supporters as bitter clingers yearning for a lost era of racial supremacy is an easy mistake to make for those who view the world in black and white and yellow and brown. Ultimately, however, drawing a caricature of your opponent is an effective strategy only if you yourself know where the cartoon leaves off and the substance begins.
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