Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The lost opportunity of "deplorables"

I am going to try to blog this post without gushing over Ta-Nehisi Coates.

But I will probably fail.

I have often written about how utterly impressed I am with him as both a writer and a thinker. Apparently most of the world is too, given the number of awards garnered for his book, Between the World and Me. If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to do so.

So when Coates showed up on All In with Chris Hayes, I took notice. Coates had just dropped a new piece in The Atlantic about how the media lost a real opportunity when Hillary Clinton said that half of Donald Trump's supporters could be put in a "basket of deplorables" for being racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, and xenophobic. As Coates points out, most of the resulting coverage was from political analysts wondering if Clinton could recover from such a "gaffe" and if this would bring new momentum to the Trump campaign. In other words, who will win now?

The lost opportunity, Coates argues, is that such journalism "ignores the real and intractable problems of racism." Since Clinton has made such a claim, the question must then be asked is "is there any merit to it?" Is there polling data that would refute her claim? If there is, then why isn't the Trump campaign touting it as easy rebuttal?

That's because the data shows the opposite. As shown on All In, large percentages of Trump supporters hold negative views of Muslims, still believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and that African Americans are more violent than whites. So what defense does Trump employ instead? He asserts that in her words, Clinton has insulted a vast swath of everyday Americans.

As Coates points out, African Americans have been and often still are the victims of "everyday Americans." A fact that African Americans have been forced to endure with longanimity.

The invocation of the word "deplorable" is perhaps unfortunate. There is of course a connotation of evil with it. Are that many Americans truly evil? Such a question, Coates argues, ignores human complexity. To both my fascination and my aggravation, I have found that most people are quite complex. It is entirely possible for a person to be a good parent, a good teacher, and still hold a few pretty vile views. I am learning that as I meditate on why a few people in my social circles support Trump (subject of a post for next week). The fact is people can be many things at the same time. A nice person can, and to my experience sometimes does, harbor racist beliefs or misogynistic tendencies.

That latter point brings up another matter. I would argue that the aftermath of the Clinton statements was not only an opportunity to have a frank and open discussion about racism, but sexism as well. Last March, David Brooks penned a piece for the New York Times that outlined "The Sexual Politics of 2016." In it, he describes the particularly Trumpian brand of sexism where women are not only trophies and symbols of acquisition, they are fair game in political attacks. An opponent or detractor's wife or girlfriend has often been either on the receiving end of a verbal attack from Trump or as a piece of capital or a chess piece in the debate. Brooks has several examples at the link. I don't think I'm all that rare among thinking individuals in calling such an act deplorable. Why aren't we talking about that?

Because that would cause us to have a long and uncomfortable look at ourselves. For if the Trump supporters are correct in that he accumulates his support by "just saying what's on everybody's mind," then what's on our mind is rather reprehensible. But we're America. We're the good guys. We don't have those kinds of hearts of darkness.

Do we?

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