Part 1—Under every bed: Should Hillary Clinton have said what she said about our many deplorables?
You may recall the incident! In early September 2016, while running for president, Clinton made an unusual comment about the people supporting her opponent, Donald J. Trump.
She about that half of Trump's supporters belonged in a "basket of deplorables." They deserved that designation because they were "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it," she rather expansively said.
"Some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America," she said as part of this same comment. From Clinton's full remarks, it wasn't clear if all the deplorables were irredeemable, or if only some of them were.
This was a highly unusual statement from someone running for president. Her opponent, Candidate Trump, said that Candidate Clinton's statement showed "her true contempt for everyday Americans." The statement became a rallying-point for Trump's supporters.
(For the record, 63 million people ended up voting for Candidate Trump. [66 million voted for Clinton.] As such, Clinton had placed well over 30 million people in her now-famous basket.)
Clinton has now released a book, What Happened, in which she offers her account of last year'as campaign. In a somewhat surprising passage, she defends the substance of her remarks about the deplorables, if not the political wisdom of making such a remark.
On the substance, Clinton says that her sweeping assessment was right. In this essay, CNN's Dan Merica quotes from Clinton's book:
MERICA (9/12/17): Clinton writes that she handed Trump a "political gift" in September when she told an audience of supporters that "you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables."Quite correctly, Clinton says she didn't condemn all of Donald J. Trump supporters to the agonies of Hell. She's sorry that people misread her remarks—remarks whose accuracy she has now reaffirmed.
Her admission of a mistake isn't without equivocation, though.
Clinton writes that she was "talking about well-documented reality," citing a 2016 study by the General Social Survey that found 55% of white Republicans "believed that blacks are generally poorer than whites 'because most just don't have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up and out of poverty.'"
"Generalizing about a broad group of people is almost always unwise. And I regret handing Trump a political gift with my deplorables comments," Clinton writes. "I know that a lot of well-intentioned people were insulted because they misunderstood me to be criticizing all Trump voters. I'm sorry about that."
It's very unusual for a political figure to make such comments about such a wide swath of the public. It's amazing to see Clinton double down on the accuracy of her assessment, in a book for which she presumably conducted full measures of research.
Having said that, let us also say this:
What Clinton says about last year's General Social Survey is basically accurate, perhaps perfectly so—at least as far as she went.
What is the General Social Survey? The GSS is a giant survey of social and political attitudes. According to the leading authority on the project, it's "a sociological survey created and regularly collected since 1972 by the research institute NORC at the University of Chicago. It is funded by the National Science Foundation."
As such, the GSS is conducted by some of the nation's top brainiacs in the general field of social science. Last year, as in prior years, this is one of the questions respondents were asked. We apologize for reprinting the question:
Question from the General Social Survey:That's a stereotype-laden question. As best we can tell, the brainiacs at NORC ask this question about no other group. Arguably, its inclusion in the GSS helps draw back the curtain on the hearts and minds of Those Top Researchers Today.
"On the [sic] average (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are because most (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?"
We'll discuss the judgment of those NORC researchers before the week is through. That said, that unfortunate question was indeed asked and answered as part of last year's GSS, and Clinton's statistic is basically accurate, perhaps even perfectly so.
For ourselves, we can't easily find the series of clicks which tells us what "white Republicans" said in response to that question. But according to the somewhat unwieldy GSS site, these were the responses to that question from "non-black Republicans," and from Republicans overall. Once again, we apologize for posting the question:
Responses to particular question, 2016 GSSOn the basis of that survey question, Clinton continues to say that half the people who supprted Trump belong in the "basket of deplorables" and may even be irredeemable. She was dumb to say it, but right on the substance, Clinton has said in her book.
"On the average (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are because most (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?"
Responses by non-black Republicans:
Yes: 53.1 percent
No: 43.1 percent
Don't know: 3.7 percent
Responses by Republicans overall:
Yes: 53.3 percent
No: 42.8 percent
Don't know: 3.9 percent
Let's ignore the possible lack of political wisdom in Candidate Clinton's original remark. Every candidate says something unwise at some point in a long campaign. There's no reason why Candidate Clinton should have been the exception.
Forget the possible lack of political wisdom in Clinton's extemporaneous comment. Over the next few days, we're going to review her defense of the accuracy of her assessment.
Having said that, we offer this trigger warning:
We've reviewed the full data set from the GSS. We've seen how Democrats responded to that question as well as Republicans.
We've seen how our different "racial" groups responded—whites, Hispanics and blacks.
A full year later, Candidate Clinton is still upset about the way Trump's supporters answered that unfortunate question. Tomorrow, we're going to show you how her own supporters answered that question. We may even try to figure out what the full set of data might mean, perhaps about the usefulness of including such questions in social science research.
This probably isn't the most significant part of Clinton's new book. That said, we think this episode has much to tell us about the way our broken American discourse currently works.
We think the episode tells us some things about Candidate Clinton herself. We think it tells us some things about the American press corps.
We think the episode tells us some things about the nation's liberal social scientists. As a general matter, we think it tells us somethings about the "hive mind" of our own liberal world, which has misfired very badly over the past several decades.
More than anything else, we think this episode helps us ponder our liberal tribe's desire to loathe The Others. To a substantially lesser extent, we'd say the same thing about this recent piece at Slate, in which William Saletan examines five recent surveys in an attempt to examine (we're quoting a headline) "the president’s racist base, by the numbers."
We'll review that piece later on in the week. Tomorrow, we'll look at the wider set of responses to that stereotype-laden question from last year's GSS.
All through the annals of time, tribal groups have looked for ways to loathe, despise and negatively characterize The Others. This deeply entrenched human desire has given rise to the endless succession of wars we've conducted down through the annals of time.
We humans are always able to see how bad The Others are. AS our horror grows, we usually manage to find such demons under every bed.
In the modern context, as we pleasure ourselves with our exquisite loathing, we rarely bother to take the time to review full data sets. We're much more likely to pick and choose our data, selectively feeding the beast of our exquisite loathing.
In the world of us rational animals, loathing The Others has always felt good. Checking the data is hard.
Tomorrow: "White" and "black" responses