It’s been almost a year since Hillary Clinton said this during the presidential campaign:
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, Islamaphobic, 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 only have 11,000 people — now 11,000,000. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.
Remember the reaction? Trump supporters whined louder than libtard snowflakes accused of a micro-aggression. The outcry was so unremitting that a day later Clinton said “I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong.”
But was it?
After she made the remark, I thought, “Hillary Clinton is the most careful politician on earth. She used ‘half’ because her pollsters gave her that figure after six months of triple-checked number crunching using 187 data points for every registered voter in the country.”
And after the election, I thought, “Trump got 63 million votes, meaning by Clinton’s ‘grossly generalistic’ estimate, a little over 30 million of his voters are racist, sexist, you name it. Do I believe there are 30 million Americans 18 or older who are racist, sexist, you name it? Oh hell yeah.”
The Charlottesville demonstration brought all that back to mind. It would be nice to think the neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and their fellow travelers constitute a tiny, isolated fringe of Trump’s supporters. The data suggest otherwise, though.
In a CBS News poll released last week, two-thirds of Republicans approved of Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville travesty, deeming fair his equal apportionment of blame to those demonstrating against the bigots. Two-thirds of Republicans have got to come to more than 30 million people. I’m gonna guess those folks don’t hold France, Great Britain, and the US as culpable as Germany and Japan for World War II, but that’s essentially their logic. I get that they’re not holding the bigots blameless, but how do you compare the bigots’ ugly message, their menacing march, their display of guns, and their car attack to the instigation of a few scuffles by the counter-demonstrators and call it even?
And a Monmouth University poll released last Tuesday found that “about 25% of the American public support Trump and say they will not change their mind.” It’s possible they might have changed their minds had they watched Trump’s rager of a press conference that afternoon, the one in which he defended the alt-right and invented an alt-left. But again, even a significant drop in support after that Mussolini moment would leave well over 30 million people in his corner.
If you’re dismayed by that much solidarity with a president who argues that Nazis and Klansmen can be “fine people,” count your blessings that you got this far without having to confront hate. Most likely you owe it to so-called political correctness, the social norm that grants people from historically disadvantaged groups as much respect as white Christian males (see my post of August 6). But that doesn’t mean racism, sexism, you name it went away. A paper issued in May by Leonardo Bursztyn (University of Chicago), Georgy Egorov (Northwestern), and Stefano Fiorin (UCLA) concluded that “perceptions of Trump’s popularity (either through experimental variation or through the ‘natural experiment’ of his victory) eliminate the wedge between private and public behavior.” In other words, racists, sexists, and you-name-its who kept their hostility to themselves in the face of so-called political correctness feel liberated to publicly express it with Trump in the White House.
I realize that two recent polls and a single academic paper don’t constitute definitive proof, and I welcome contrary evidence. But it sure seems that, whatever else you think of her, Hillary Clinton was absolutely right about Trump’s base.
Except for that “thankfully they are not America” line at the end. Racists, sexists, and you-name-its are America, or at least a significant part of it, and have been from the beginning. They are often labeled a cancer, as in this viral video by Arnold Schwarzenegger (he goes there at 2:40). But we don’t usually start life with cancer, so to me the more apt metaphor is psychosis — a chronic, incurable mental illness manageable through medication (law and societal norms) but self-destructive when untreated.
And if by that you think I’m implying Donald Trump is off his meds, well . . .