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 web sites that used to only have eleven thousand people and now have eleven 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.
Then I woke up to find that overnight Twitter had filled up with posts crowing, "If you're so tolerant, why aren't you tolerant of intolerance? GOTCHA!!" Which is of course a fatuous argument, but it made me nervous. The media has been insistent on pushing the narrative that "they're both equally bad" — I heard a particularly egregious example on NPR when David Brooks argued that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had "both lost" the so-called "Commander-in-Chief Forum" because while Trump had praised the autocracy of Vladimir Putin, lied about his past positions on the wars in Iraq and Libya, disparaged American generals and declared he would fire them all as president even though presidents can't do that, claimed that he would have appropriated Iraq's oil even though that's a war crime, revealed information about a confidential security briefing, and suggested that rape was the inevitable consequence of letting women into the military… Clinton was "unpleasant". And no other pundit on the panel challenged Brooks's assertion that it was therefore a tie. So when I saw that some liberal bloggers were arguing that Clinton was using brilliant judo moves on the media, using its obsession with catching her in a scandal to turn its focus to the white nationalists who populate the ranks of Trump's supporters, I was skeptical. And I certainly agreed with those who cautioned that, having made the statement, Clinton could not afford to back down from it, not even an inch. When she said she regretted assigning "half" of Trump's supporters to the basket of deplorables but quickly reasserted the broader point that Trump's campaign was built "largely on prejudice and paranoia", I knew that the latter 90% of her statement would be ignored, and sure enough, on my drive home from work this evening, the radio blared that Trump had charged Clinton with bigotry and Clinton had conceded she was wrong. And thus do we move that much closer to the Darkest Timeline. Get your felt beards ready.
But here's what most jumped out at me about this whole exchange. Here's Trump's reply (via Twitter, of course) to the news:
Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!
And here's his running mate, Mike Pence:
The truth of the matter is that the men and women who support Donald Trump's campaign are hard-working Americans, farmers, coal miners, teachers, veterans, members of our law enforcement community, members of every class of this country who know that we can make America great again.
Let's throw in their communications advisor, Jason Miller:
Clinton revealed just how little she thinks of the hard-working men and women of America.
What kind of response is that? "Half your supporters are racist!" "Yeah, but they're hard-working!" Huh? If your son gets caught torturing animals in the woods, do you counter that he gets A's on all his math tests? But after a moment, I made the connection, and I found it pretty chilling. See, the media, which for as long as I've been alive has covered presidential campaigns not by evaluating competing policy proposals but by tallying up gaffes, immediately got to chirping about whether the "basket of deplorables" remark was Clinton's "47% moment". The discussions on this topic were inane, but I think there actually is a deep connection between the two controversies. Back when Mitt Romney got in trouble for telling a group of his fellow one-percenters that 47% of the population was going to vote for Obama because they were "dependent upon government", I was struck by how much he echoed a group of people whose concerns had not yet broken into mainstream political discussion, but who filled up the comment sections of virtually every news site complaining about "lazy thugs", "sub-human animals", and "nignogs" who were "stealing from the taxpayers" and "sucking the system dry". That is to say, it was an article of faith among these future Trump voters that only white conservatives worked hard and contributed to society. Liberals and people with non-European ancestry were nothing but parasites, and most of the latter group were on that secret welfare system that allowed them to buy BMWs, plasma TVs, and "bling". And this is the framework from which the Trump, Pence, and Miller statements spring. None of them deny that these Trump voters are in fact racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic. They can't — not out of honesty (HA HA HA) but because the last time Trump flirted with "softening" his message, his base freaked out and looked set to abandon him in droves. Validating their racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia is what the deplorables are supporting Trump for. Trump might be right that Clinton's statement might "cost her at the Polls" [sic], but taking a stand against any of those ideological cancers would cost him even more. And so we get this dog whistle. When Clinton deplored the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic contingent of Trump's base, the Trump camp tells us, she was demonstrating "contempt" and "disdain" for "great Americans", "everyday Americans", Americans who "deserve your respect". Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic Americans who define themselves as hard workers, credit their work ethic to the fact that they're white, and thereby justify their white supremacism. And right on cue, Trump and Pence use the exact words with which these white supremacists celebrate themselves to argue that they are indeed not to be deplored but celebrated. That is, they replied to the charge that half their supporters were racist with a message that, just below the surface, was itself racist.