Presidential candidates are constantly at risk of making the sort of verbal faux pas which goes viral, creating a banner around which their opposition can unify or even giving birth to a narrative which becomes stickier over time. Even the smoothest campaigners run this risk and will occasionally stumble. Remember Barack Obama’s infamous “gun and religion” remark?
Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton attempted to capitalize on her opponent’s perceived elitism when he let slip some too-honest remarks about working-class voters to a crowd of prosperous liberals at a Bay Area fundraiser. Eight years later, Clinton is the one being castigated for speaking ill of her opponent’s supporters.
Hillary Clinton regrets saying half of Donald Trump’s supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables” https://t.co/mDFlF1rlvD
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 10, 2016
Here is what she originally said:
To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.
It is surely the prudent course of action for her to walk back these offensive remarks; an effective candidate should strive to be seen attacking her opponent rather than the electorate, for obvious reasons. Given that she was tactically inept, though, it still remains to be seen whether she was factually wrong.
How many Americans support racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic ideas and policies? Let’s break it down, one deplorable vice at a time.
For my money, the most politically salient test for racism in America is whether any given voter is actively denialist on the question of whether a black man with Kenyan ancestry was legally qualified to become president on account of being born in the United States.
An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2012
Only around 20% of Americans believe Obama was born outside of the United States, according to a 2015 CNN/ORC poll. Among Trump supporters, however, that number leaps to 61%, according to Public Policy Polling. As there is no rational way to support Trump-style birtherism, it seems safe to assume that it must be motivated by racial animus.
Sexism comes in various and subtle forms, and can be tricky to quantify, not to mention difficult to remedy using the tools available to politicians. Nevertheless, there are a few issues where the government has a direct and disproportional impact upon women, such as access to women’s reproductive health services.
FLASHBACK: @RealDonaldTrump to #PlannedParenthood: Stop all abortions or I’ll defund you. https://t.co/qBUQEba71L
— LifeSiteNews.com (@LifeSite) September 10, 2016
A 2015 survey from USA Today found that over half of Republicans hope to defund Planned Parenthood:
The survey found a sharp partisan divide: 91% of Democrats support federal funding for Planned Parenthood; 59% of Republicans say those funds should be shut off.
In related news, Trump’s running mate has promised that they will bring about the overruling of Roe v. Wade if America gives them the chance:
Roe vs. Wade will be overturned if Donald Trump wins, Mike Pence says https://t.co/3SYybD1UJ1
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) July 28, 2016
It should not seem like much of a stretch to say that forcing women to give birth against their will is rooted in sexist ideas which elevate the value of reproduction over individual bodily autonomy.
The signature of the political homophobe is their unwillingness to treat gays and lesbians as equal to heterosexuals under law. Thankfully, only around one third of Americans still oppose equal rights, according to recent polling from Pew Research Center:
Slideshow: Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage https://t.co/9cQNBmsXwz pic.twitter.com/T2T7Tp3bt0
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) May 12, 2016
If we look solely at GOP voters, that proportion climbs to over half. We’ve all made progress, but the Republican Party is still the place to be if you favor openly homophobic candidates.
Trump kicked off his campaign with a fairly blatant appeal to fear of foreigners, especially those from south of the Rio Grande:
Trump: Mexico Not Sending Us Their Best; Criminals, Drug Dealers And Rapists Are Crossing Border: DONALD TRUMP… http://t.co/x5ry9niPgp
— RCP Video (@rcpvideo) June 16, 2015
Subsequent polling found that “Trump performs best among Americans who express more resentment toward African Americans and immigrants and who tend to evaluate whites more favorably than minority groups,” but that does not tell us how pervasive these sorts of attitudes are in the American public.
Reuters polling from early 2016 tells us that 54% of Americans supported President Obama’s plan to “allow certain illegal immigrants to stay in the country,” whereas only 31% of Republicans did so. While this is no longer a major campaign issue on account of an avoidable Supreme Court deadlock, the data are indicative of American attitudes towards undocumented immigrants.
This is a controversial and loaded term, one which thoughtful humanists like Michael Nugent have argued against using on the grounds that it is too often employed to silence legitimate debate about the harms done by one particular religion. Anti-Muslim prejudice by any other name smells just as unsweet, however, and religious bigotry against non-Christians remains pervasive throughout the United States.
How many Americans are so afraid of Muslims that they would be willing to impose an unprecedented religious test on potential immigrants? Around half:
Trump gains support for his Muslim ban from almost half of Americans https://t.co/eT52TIUgS3
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) July 18, 2016
Poll: More Than Half of Americans Support Profiling, Temporary Muslim Ban @ffweekend https://t.co/p0iWvN7aDu pic.twitter.com/y53l3a0JrO
— FoxNewsInsider (@FoxNewsInsider) July 4, 2016
An earlier poll from YouGov found similar results:
To recap, in brief:
- Over half of Trump supporters believe Obama was born outside the U.S.
- Over half of Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood
- Over half of Republicans continue to oppose same-sex marriage
- Two-thirds of Republicans oppose executive efforts to soften immigration policy
- Over half of all Americans want to (temporarily) ban Muslim immigration
This small sampling of issues is quite enough to conclude that America has ongoing problems with deplorable attitudes such as racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Hillary Clinton may be wrong to mention these problems out loud, but she isn’t wrong to take notice of them.