September 21, 2016
By now Hillary Clinton’s comment that half of Donald Trump’s supporters are “sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” and hence “irredeemable” is known throughout the land. They, said she, belong in a “basket of deplorables.” She thus consigns to her “basket” many millions of Americans, in fact more each day as Trump does ever better in the polls.
Make no mistake about it, this bit of invective was no accident. Hillary is carefully scripted, and especially so in these months of her campaign. Cameras were rolling and she knew it. Moreover, she has said the same thing repeatedly on camera in front of high-end donors. Why then did she say such a thing?
The first and obvious point is that it was heartfelt. She, like the rest of the Elite, harbors deep feelings of contempt for the common Joe and Jane. And the contempt is bipartisan. As many have noted, her comment echoes that of Romney in 2012 who accused “47%” of American voters of being ne’er do well freeloaders, expecting a handout from the government. That is the Republican Elite’s brand of contempt. The Dem Elite on the other hand offer their contempt in terms of identity politics. To them the great unwashed are a mass of bigots and worse. (Other years it was the Black “superpredators” who felt their sting.) It cannot be otherwise. Every exploiting, parasitic member of the elite feels contempt for its subjects, so this is not news. Imagined superiority after all, is what justifies in the minds of the few, their rule over the many.
And certainly Hillary’s words will give the attendees at a $250,000 per plate event a feeling of moral superiority believing that they are not among the “irredeemables,” but are in fact among the redeemers. And if that sounds messianic, that is because it is. Such a feeling of moral superiority is also a handy way to take the edge off the guilt welling up from the way these folks rake in their lucre. Well worth the $250,000 price of admission! A case in point are those in the room who made off with a bundle after the 2008 crash, which was made possible by the repeal of Glass-Steagall in the Clinton “co-presidency.”
But now a question arises. Romney tried to keep his contempt for the people a secret, but Hillary boasts of hers. Why? After all, it is a cardinal rule of politics that one should never attack the voters, the supporters of one’s opponent, but only the opponent himself or herself. Why then did Hillary disparage the Trump supporters themselves in such a public way?
We may make sense of this by suggesting that Hillary’s remarks were aimed not at Trump supporters but at progressives. Her purpose is to shame liberal voters who might be willing to consider and discuss the issues that Donald Trump is raising in a rational way. After all, if you speak in favor of Trump because you support some of his ideas, you too may be quickly classified as a “deplorable.” In that case you will be lucky if you have any friends if you are a “progressive.” This applies most acutely to foreign policy where Clinton demonizes Putin as “Hitler” whereas Trump wants to “get along” with him, a policy of détente. If you agree with Trump’s détente, then be very quiet about it. The basket awaits you.
Hillary knows that progressives fear the racist label like death itself – and rightly so given the nature of the racism beast. In fact, today no American, other than a handful of obscure, powerless troglodytes, wants that label.
Yes, my dear progressive, this ploy is meant to scare you out of rational thought about issues of war, peace and Empire, which can affect the very survival of human civilization. And the self-same shaming ploy is everywhere to be found in outlets consulted daily by liberals– from the boring NPR to the meandering prose of the NYT and throughout the mainstream media.
So far this ploy has been working deplorably well, if we may put it that way. A uniformity of thought amongst progressives, a rigid groupthink, has emerged in this electoral season, which is downright scary.
And Hillary’s bit of stereotyping hides the fact that by any reasonable measure, Hillary is the arch racist of the two major candidates, as noted some time ago here. The Donald has spoken ill of some people of color, although not of whole races; but Hillary is the architect, or vigorous cheerleader, for wars that have consumed the lives of millions of people of color throughout the Middle East and North Africa – and beyond. Is killing millions of people of color to be given a pass when a judgment of racism is considered? That is a strange moral calculus.
And when it comes to domestic affairs, Hillary is in much the same category. Read what Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow has to say in her recent essay in The Nation, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote: From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.” Or read what Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report has to say of her assault on Blacks and other people of color here. No wonder Blacks greet Hillary with no detectable zest and turn a deaf ear to Obama’s pleas to vote for her.
Certainly by casting a vote for Hillary, you are not casting a vote for one who has stood against racism. That is a fiction. It does not stand as an excuse for voting for Hillary the Hawk.
Stephen F. Cohen Emeritus Professor of History at Princeton and NYU and now contributing editor of The Nation, repeatedly and correctly bemoans the failure to discuss the existential question of avoiding nuclear war and rebuilding détente with Russia. There is no better time than the presidential election to bring this question front and center, something the Left did once upon a time. All the more so since the two major candidates differ so starkly on these questions, which involve our very survival.
Fortunately a small but growing number of leading progressives are refusing to be intimidated by Hillary’s shameful ploy. They refuse to be sheep. They have had the courage to think. Some of those who have done so to one degree or another are Bill Blum, William Greider, Glen Ford, Stephen F. Cohen and John Pilger as discussed here.
We would do well to follow the lead of these and others who have joined them.
The discussion of the candidates’ policies must become fully rational – especially on questions of war and peace. Let’s abandon stereotypes, smears based on personality, not policy, and ploys based on fear of being put into a “basket.” Instead, let’s discuss the issues that will affect our survival. Let us think and put things in proper perspective. For if we do not think, we may perish.