Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What about the “Deplorables”?

Eleven days ago Hillary Clinton made a remark that her political opponents, and some in the media, thought was rather deplorable. As most of you know, she referred to half of Donald Trump’s supporters as being a “basket of deplorables.” (Click here for the video and NYTimes article about that.)
To review, Hillary said, "To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobia, you name it." 
HRC on Sept. 9
Two mistakes
From the outset, let me suggest that that Hillary made at least two mistakes in what she said: nouning an adjective and labeling some people as irredeemable.
It is generally not good to turn an adjective into a noun used to label people. I remember Dr. Wayne Oates, my pastoral counseling professor in seminary, talking about this. While I don’t remember his exact words, I remember his important point.
Dr. Oates emphasized the importance of remembering that we always relate to persons. Thus, for example, pastors don’t visit/care for the sick and the bereaved. Rather, they minister to sick and bereaved people.
With this sort of thing in mind, people shouldn’t be called deplorables. There are only some people who believe/say/do deplorable things. Deplorable may be a legitimate adjective describing some people’s attitudes or actions. It is not a legitimate noun to use in place of person.
Calling people deplorables is, perhaps, an example of “hating” the sinner, not just the sin—never a good thing to do.
In her remarks, Hillary also referred to those in the “basket of deplorables” as “irredeemable.” While it may be true that the social stance of most of those in said basket may not be redeemed, still, to call any person, or group of people, irredeemable is highly questionable.
Two baskets
A few days after Hillary’s infelicitous remarks, Franklin Graham posted this on Facebook: “I’m not ‘Deplorable’ to God, even if Hillary Clinton thinks so” (see this Christian Post article). He emphasized that “all sin is deplorable” to God but that because of Jesus “our deplorable sins” can be forgiven and we can have a “right standing” [pun intended?] before God.
Fair enough. But that statement misses the point. Hillary said that only half of Trump supporters were in the basket of deplorables. She wasn’t indicating that that is where Franklin is—unless that is the bunch with whom he self-identifies.
In a similar vein, a former missionary colleague of mine posted this on his Facebook page: “DEPLORABLE. A lot of white, male, traditional value holding, peace loving Christians are in this basket. Not ‘phobic’ and not haters.”
Why, though, would my friend and the peace loving Christians he refers to not consider themselves among the other half of Trump’s supporters? Even if half are in the basket of deplorables, that does not mean the other half are the same or that they are guilty of the same injurious attitudes.
Hillary talked about two baskets—and the legitimate concerns of those in one of those two.
Two attitudes
Whether as many as half or not, there does seem to be a sizeable percentage of Trump’s supporters whose attitudes and words do appear to be incontrovertibly racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and/or Islamophobic. Trump himself has also said plenty that can be properly described by those adjectives.
There are those who seem to fear/”hate”/denigrate people of color, women, LGBT persons, foreigners, or Muslims. Those attitudes often lead, unhappily, to deplorable words and actions.
Happily, though, there are “admirables” who exemplify an attitude of love, understanding, and acceptance of those who are “different.” 


  1. For those of you would like to read more about this issue, one article well worth reading is “Hillary Clinton’s basket of deplorables, explained,” found at http://www.vox.com/2016/9/14/12896540/hillary-basket-of-deplorables

  2. I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of those who are "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and/or Islamophobic" will be voting for Trump. I think Clinton's mistake was to use the word, "half." That word is too specific. Perhaps "some" or "many" would have been better.

    One of the problems with those in the deplorable basked is that very few of them self identify as such.

    1. The writer of the article I referred to in the previous comments wrote that "some liberals think Clinton was wrong to back away from her numerical estimates. Writers like the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, New York’s Jonathan Chait, and Vox’s own German Lopez have all argued that, as best as we can tell, Clinton was, if anything, undercounting the quantity of irredeemable bigots in Trump’s ranks."

    2. And now there are all sorts of tee shirts, coffee mugs, etc. boldly saying, "Proud member of the Basket of Deplorables."

      While it is no doubt true that many of the people with deplorable attitudes/words would not self-identify as such, it amazes me that now there seems to be many people who, whether they are that way or not, identify with the bigoted people in the basket.

  3. Leroy it is interesting that it appears that most, if not all, Trump supporters think Hillary was describing them when she said half. If Trump said the same about Hillary, but used whatever words to make her supporters look bad, I wonder if I'd claim them. I guess it would depend on what words were used. Hillary supporters feel Hillary mis-stepped on this comment. But the ongoing question is, why aren't Trump supporters incensed by all of the phobic statements he makes? Who knows? Maybe half of them are.

    1. Thanks, David, for your comments. Yes, it is puzzling to me that many of Trump's supporters thought Hillary was criticizing them--which, it appears, was the case with my Facebook friend and former colleague.

      It amazes me that rather than criticize those who hold such views, which for the most part I assume he doesn't, or criticize Trump for his statements that seem clearly to be racist, xenophobic, etc., he seems to have taken offense and thinks that Hillary attacked him and other sincere Christians like him.

  4. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your wise comments.

    :I too found Ms. Clinton's remarks unfortunate; she is usually very careful with her words, but everyone slips now and then.

    "As you point out, people are not deplorable, but ideas and attitudes can be deplorable and certainly there are a number of Americans who hold deplorable views about other racial or ethnic groups.

    "Ms. Clinton's remarks lowered her campaign to the level of that of Mr. Trump, who has been using pejorative epithets from the start.

    "And I too am becoming weary of all of the political campaigns as substantive issues are not being discussed. I am seeing mostly negative ads and attacks on the character of each candidate. Can we do no better than this?"

  5. Politics. Name callers just looking for a fight with their enemies. Peace and Justice? I see and hear neither. Just partisan politics. Hill no! Never Trump! (Although I would consider voting for the latter since there is a better political chance that he would be impeached.) Two incredibly evil people - but look around the world, it is littered with "leaders" like these two.

    (The largest supporters of Trump that I come across are not "Republicans", but Union folks. The largest supporters of Hillary seem to be devout Democrats. Devout Christianity brings a few to each, but they are on the fringes, with diverging, polar opposite views of morality and justice - a Church divided.)

    May the faithful followers of Christ seek another path. That of friendship, good works, and unity in Christ. They are few, but out there - I have met some.

  6. Journalist Michael Kinsley made the famous statement "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth--some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say." Some have shortened it to just "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth." Remember Obama's famous "clinging to their guns and their religion" or Romney's "47 percent." These things happen frequently, especially when talking to wealthy donors. These are the kinds of statements that keep coaches telling their teams not to say something that their next opponent can stick up on the bulletin board for motivation.

    Now I do not know whether this was a true gaffe on Clinton's part, or a fake gaffe. By fake gaffe, I mean a statement made in hopes of getting an over reaction from Trump and his supporters. Statistically, Clinton's statement may even have been an understatement, and she may have been hoping that it would goad him into proving that truth. Perhaps she hoped it would remind undecided voters of why they were nervous about supporting Trump in the first place. Perhaps her statement was just honest exasperation at Trump's largely fact-free campaign of dog-whistles and insults.

    Even as Trump praises the police, the police continue to shoot large numbers of people, especially of color. Is it any surprise that our cities echo with "Black Lives Matter"? A few NFL players are sitting down for the national anthem, and so police departments are publicly discussing not providing security for them. Over one hundred tribes are gathered in North Dakota to protest yet another pipeline which they see as threatening the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux, so the pipeline company responds with guard dogs and bulldozers. This is the circus within which Trump flourishes. And the internet is popping with "Deplorables" tee shirts.

    Do I wish Clinton had found a more elegant way to express herself? Of course I do. However, she may have done us all a favor by forcing the uncomfortable profile of the Trump campaign into higher relief. Trump and his followers want to "Make America White Again." Behind the dog whistles, that is the "Great" engine of his campaign. His vision of "white" is a "great" threat to all of us, even those of us who happen to be white. From voter suppression to outrageous bathroom laws to misogynistic denials of basic healthcare Trump is the front edge of a tsunami of repression and hate that follows him. I hope Clinton steps up her campaign, because she needs to decisively defeat Trump for the sake of our republic.

  7. Thanks, Craig, for your strong, and important, words about the current presidential campaign. As for Hillary's statement, I hope the "frontlash" will be stronger than the backlash--and it may well be.