Almost two years have passed since Hillary Clinton delivered the gift of her “basket of deplorables” speech to her opponent’s campaign, so why do Democrats continue to make the mistake of tossing all Trump supporters into a single category of despicable people?
Little has changed in the way most Democrats view Trump’s base since Clinton gave that speech at an LGBT for Hillary fundraiser in New York City on September 9, 2016:
You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? They’re 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 only have 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.
There is no question that some people fit into the categories Clinton described in the speech. But the second basket that Hillary mentioned in that same speech—those who had genuine concerns that that the government had let them down and that Trump would be an agent of change—are the greater problem for Democrats going into the November election.
I have encountered three types of people who do not fit into the Deplorable Basket, yet they still support Trump.
The first is characteristic of many of the adults I grew up with in the hard conditions of the coalfields in Appalachia. For those who made a living underground in coalmines or aboveground in lumberyards, it took a distinct stubbornness to survive. Men and women alike knew nothing about the ease of the upper middle class, except that they wanted their children to escape the exhausting travail that shaped their daily lives.
Such people, precisely because they had to be dogged and immovable in order to survive and to provide for their families, rarely, if ever, admitted their mistakes. My father was one such man. My mother often said he was “pigheaded” or “stubborn as a mule” in the face of all evidence that he was wrong. As it became clear that he could have made a better decision, he might quietly change course without comment, which my mother counted as a victory. But more often, he maintained his course, even when the waters became treacherous and threatened to drown him.
These Trump supporters frequently steer any discussion of Trump’s failings to Hillary, Obama, Comey, or any other person who might deflect the conversation and save them from having to give a rational argument for Trump and his policies, which they know have made no difference in their lives.
The second group of Trump defenders are those who get all news from conservative outlets and rarely, if ever, read an article or watch a news piece that might challenge their thinking. I encounter these people frequently, sometimes in unexpected places, as I did this week in a visit to one of my doctors. This person is obviously educated and intelligent, a person who reads and thinks. In the twenty years I’ve been a patient, my physician has often quickly found what other doctors have missed.
When I commented that it had taken me months to get an appointment, the doctor stunned me by uncharacteristically blurting that “Bernie Sanders socialists” were to blame for what they had done to the practice of medicine. Clearly, I don’t have this doctor’s expertise or experience in medical policy, so I asked the doctor to explain. Thankfully, my blood pressure was taken prior to the debate that ensued, where the doctor quoted every talking point from a source on Fox News and scoffed at several facts I quoted because they came from mainstream media. When I asked if the doctor was familiar with AllSides, a site that provides multiple perspectives on all stories, it became clear that my physician had no interest in hearing other perspectives.
Democrats make the mistake of overtly stating or, at the very least, implying that such people are stupid, which stops all dialogue with a person who is certain of his own academic intelligence. This makes otherwise intelligent people even less apt to hear different perspectives.
The third group of Trump voters are perhaps the most dangerous to our democracy—those who quietly support him with their votes and their money because he is good for their bank account. They are people who never admitted openly before the election that they would be voting for Trump and who rarely engage in conversations on politics.
I have a few close friends who fall into this category, or I might otherwise never know they support Trump. When they can be drawn into a conversation, they admit that Trump lacks character and that they are embarrassed by his tweets and his egregious behavior. They try to convince me—and I suspect themselves—that Trump has done some good things. Some of them even believe we should have universal healthcare, and most of them are socially liberal.
These friends have taught me the danger of a two-party system where the base refuses to nominate a centrist candidate. In the current climate, neither I nor they are ever likely to vote across party lines in a general election.
That fewer and fewer of us have friends whose views differ from our own makes it unlikely that the political climate will change any time soon. When we continue to view the opposition as “irredeemable” and “not America,” we ensure that nothing will heal the wounds we’ve created, short of a world catastrophe that forces us to work together to survive.
If Democrats fail to win the House or the Senate in November, it will be a result of putting all their eggs into one basket.
And even if they do win, as long as both sides toss the opposition carelessly into a basket of deplorables like so many rotten eggs, our elections and our government will continue to be a stinking mess.