Hillary Clinton should not have said that about half of Trump supporters are deplorable people. That would mean that one-quarter of Americans are deplorable, a terrible thing to believe. But remember, many conservatives have said even worse about the other half of Americans: that all liberals are treasonous, that 47% of Americans are unwilling to take personal responsibility for their lives, that everyone who voted for Obama is stupid or a dupe. Republican outrage about Clinton’s comment is merely hypocrisy.
All of these comments are both stupid and wrong. Political professionals like to say, “Don’t attack the voters.” Those undecided American voters, if there are any left, don’t like to be told that supporting the side they are still considering would make them deplorable. These comments are not only bad for a campaign – they are also wrong-headed. Even though nearly half of Trump supporters say in polls that blacks are violent, criminal and lazy, I don’t agree with many political commentators that these prejudices make them deplorable people.
Trump does have some deplorable supporters, there’s no question of that. The fringe of white supremacists wholeheartedly support Trump, from former KKK leader David Duke to white nationalist leader William Johnson, whom the Trump campaign picked as a convention delegate from California.
But the great majority of Trump supporters who harbor racial prejudices are normal Americans, who have allowed themselves to be misled by the truly deplorable people, those who have been promoting racism in public for years. We have seen too many examples of the political triangle between deplorable leaders, deplorable media personalities, and people learning deplorable ideas.
Here’s how that has worked on the issue of race. Trump has continually disparaged those who have brought up the issue of police brutality against African Americans. He suggested at a rally in November that a Black Lives Matter protester “should have been roughed up”. Bill O’Reilly asked Trump on his program on July 12 about racial problems in America. Trump first blamed President Obama for creating racial divisions. O’Reilly said that there are “still some black Americans who believe that the system is biased against them,” implying this was an outdated and purely black idea. Trump compared racial discrimination to his own privileged life: “I have been saying even against me the system is rigged when I ran as a, you know, for president”.
O’Reilly wondered how Trump would be able to convince “African-Americans who believe America is a bad place built upon grievances in the past to put that aside.” O’Reilly then said that Black Lives Matter is a “hate group”, thus comparing them to the KKK or other white supremacists. Trump was a bit more moderate: “I think it’s certainly, it’s very divisive and I think they’re hurting themselves.”
Just as the Republican National Convention was getting underway in Cleveland, O’Reilly asked Donald Trump on July 19 whether Black Lives Matter was a “provocateur” in the killings of police officers. Trump replied, “I have seen them marching down the street essentially calling death to the police.” O’Reilly reworded his question, asking whether Black Lives Matter was “a fuse-lighter in the assassinations of these police officers?” Trump said, “Certainly in certain instances they are.” O’Reilly asked whether Trump as President would have his Attorney General investigate BLM, and Trump agreed, calling the group a threat. “We just can't let it happen.”
Neither candidate nor TV host knew of any evidence that Black Lives Matter was a danger to our country. BLM never called for death to the police. In 2014, a different group of protesters in New York City chanted, “What do we want? Dead cops.” One man who wants to be President and one man who reaches 2 million viewers every day agreed that Black Lives Matter was responsible for killing police and should therefore be investigated by the federal government.
Trump’s campaign dismisses the reality of real racial problems and criticizes anyone who speaks of them. That has encouraged others to create an echo chamber for these ideas. The crazies and racists of the far right are delighted because they believe they have now joined the mainstream. The Springfield State Journal-Register published a column by radical right-wing writer Ann Coulter last week comparing Black Lives Matter to David Duke.
White Americans who would like to believe that racial discrimination no longer exists, that black complaints about discrimination are outdated, that their deep feeling that blacks deserve their subordinate status in our country is true, can hear these ideas confirmed, repeated, and “proven” by public persons who know better. White Americans’ ignorance is not innocent, but is also not deplorable. Their indoctrination by politicians and media characters is deplorable. And the cheerleader for the acceptance of racist ideas in America, Donald Trump, is the most deplorable of all.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 20, 2016