THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2022
The Others are all just alike: During the 2016 White House race, Candidate Hillary Clinton made an unfortunate statement.
Her unfortunate statement became quite famous. The statement proceeded like this:
CLINTON (9/9/16): You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
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 websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now have 11 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.
Let's be fair! At some point, everyone who's running for office will make some sort of unfortunate comment.
As it turned out, this comment attracted a great deal of attention. Also, we'd have to say this:
The comment captures the way the Others are often perceived and described by Us. And so, of course, it always has been, down through the annals of time.
Let's be fair! Clinton only said that half of Donald Trump's voters qualified for residence in "the basket of deplorables."
(What percentage were "irredeemable?" That was completely unclear!)
That said, Clinton was now saying that roughly one quarter of American voters were "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic."
"You name it," she said when she finished her list. And over here, in our failing blue tribe, we quite frequently do!
This is the way the modern-day Others are routinely described by Us. As such, we'd have to say that the modern-day "democratization of media" has created a type of rhetorical standoff:
Many Others believe the craziest things. We say that the Others are racists.
Briefly, we'll be honest. It's hard for us to make a choice between those two approaches.
Each approach strikes us as transparently undesirable. That's especially true when you see the ways our own blue tribe is routinely willing to invent, disappear or massage basic facts to advance our race-based narratives.
At any rate, Candidate Clinton said that half the Others were deplorables. Especially when we're given no way to identify such fallen people, such comments will always be heard to be referring to all.
So it was with Joe Biden's recent blood-red, imprecise comments about "these extreme MAGA Republicans"—people who, he chillingly said, are "committed to destroying America."
Biden said that he was likely referring to fewer than half of the Others—but his remarkable blood-red assertions may been even more aggressive than Clinton's. In our view, when a politician makes a statement like that, he needs to be especially careful to say who he's talking about.
The uproar over Biden's remarks has tended to dissipate in the past few weeks. It may be that people have come to assume that he was talking about Republican office-holders and officials, not the Republican rank and file.
On Labor Day, he seemed to signal that distinction. In our view, the president should have been much more precise.
We think he should have been more precise in what he said about the Others. But along the way, reaction to Biden's remarks has tended to demonstrate an interesting fact about Us.
Consider the Labor Day column by Charles Blow. In his column, the Timesman complained about the fact that Biden had said that his denunciation wasn't aimed at everyone who ever voted for Trump.
Online, Blow's column appears beneath this headline:
Biden Shouldn’t Apologize to Republicans
In print editions, the headline said this:
Republicans Don’t Deserve an Apology
Had Biden apologized to the Others? Apparently, that's the way it seemed to Blow!
Charles Blow is a good, decent person—but he's also a person person. In this column, he was demonstrating a basic human tendency—the tendency to identify a gang of Others, then make our species' oldest declaration:
Those Others Are All Just Alike.
Blow was upset with President Biden, who had been far too kind in his denunciations of these Others. His column started like this:
BLOW (9/5/22): Republicans are outraged—or possibly simply pretending to be outraged—that President Biden has, in recent speeches, warned that “MAGA Republicans” are a threat to democracy and, at one point, called the philosophy fueling Trumpism “semi-fascism.”
But there is no scandal here. Biden was simply calling a thing a thing. In fact, I would prefer that he be even more pointed and not try so hard to dodge the charge that he’s casting the net too widely.
Biden first used the term “semi-fascism” two weeks ago, at a Democratic fund-raiser in Maryland, saying: “It’s not just Trump; it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the—I’m going to say, something, it’s like semi-fascism.”
Republicans quickly demanded that he apologize for insulting half the electorate. But those Republicans who voted for Donald Trump deserve to be called out for their actions. Trump has consistently exhibited fascist tendencies and espoused racism, misogyny and white nationalism. Republicans supported him, defended him and voted for him. They’ve been actively courting this condemnation.
Biden had failed to denounce everyone who voted for Trump—all 74 million Others. Blow thought this was weak and wrong:
BLOW (continuing directly): And yet, ever since the initial brouhaha over his fascism comments, Biden has insisted on walking back his assertion, seemingly determined to distinguish more genteel Republicans from the rest of their party. At a rally in Maryland, shortly after his fund-raiser, Biden said: “I respect conservative Republicans. I don’t respect these MAGA Republicans.”
Personally, I have a very hard time splitting that hair. In 2020, 92 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters backed Trump. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, 73 percent of Republicans still have a favorable opinion of him, and 72 percent want him to run for re-election in 2024.
The overwhelming majority of Republicans support Trump. The pool of respectable conservatives is shallow, and that’s assuming that they can be neatly defined as those not voting for Trump.
Biden had said that he respected some Republicans. To Blow, that was the latest outrage. He had trouble "splitting that hair."
Blow seemed to think that Biden should have denounced all Republicans, full stop. He shouldn't have said there are some he respects. Why in the world would President Biden want to say something like that?
We don't know why Biden said that. Also, we think he should have been much more clear concerning who he was talking about in his denunciations of the people who want to destroy this country.
That said, we were struck by the way Blow reacted, or failed to react, to the various sets of numbers which littered his column. In our view, he was displaying an ancient impulse—the impulse to denounce all the Others, everyone who isn't one of Us.
Consider Blow's work by the numbers! Let's start with the numbers we've already posted above:
In the passage, Blow says that 73 percent of Republicans still have a favorable opinion of Trump. Forgive us for being didactic, but that would seem to indicate that 27 percent of Republicans don't have a favorable view of the former president.
What would be wrong with observing that distinction—and with trying to peel those voters away from the GOP column? To Blow, it's hard to split that hair. The Others must all be condemned.
As Blow's column proceeded, so did this peculiar aspect of his work. Even as he thundered that Biden should have denounced all Republicans, he cited an array of statistics which seemed to show that many Republicans don't support Donald J. Trump.
We humans are wired to loathe en masse. Let's ponder some of Blow's presentations:
BLOW: Make no mistake: A significant portion of Republican voters have done exactly what Biden has tried to exempt them from having done. A Public Religion Research Institute poll published in November found that nearly a third of Republicans agreed with the statement “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
Also, a later poll found that a quarter of Republicans were adherents of the internet conspiracy theory QAnon and believe that “there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders” and that “a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation” control America’s government, media and financial system.
As PolitiFact noted in June, citing a number of polls, roughly 70 percent of Republicans don’t see Biden as the legitimate winner of the presidency.
Consider Blow by the numbers! If "a quarter of Republicans" are adherents of QAnon, doesn't that mean that three quarters are not?
(Fuller disclosure: In the survey to which Blow referred, nine percent of Democrats also qualified as QAnon adherents.)
Seventy percent of Republicans don’t see Biden as the legitimate winner? Truly, that's a shocking number—but doesn't that mean that 30 percent of Others agree that Biden won?
If a third of Republicans agree with the statement about resorting to violence, doesn't that mean that two-thirds don't? That's one of the ways such numbers strike us, but it isn't that way for Blow.
Blow rolls with the numbers like this: "A significant portion of Republican voters have done exactly what Biden has tried to exempt them from having done."
That representation of Biden's statement is semi-bungled. But if a significant portion of Republican voters have behaved in the ways Biden denounced, doesn't that suggest that another "significant portion" haven't? And isn't that more or less what Biden said?
Blow was working by the numbers in a largely irrational way. According to Blow, many Republicans had behaved certain ways, so we should condemn all.
Of course, that's the way these assessments have always gone, given the way we humans are wired. The Others will always look just alike—or so they will look to Us.
Near the end of his column, Blow quoted Hillary Clinton's unfortunate remark from 2016.
"She was absolutely right," Blow said. "She may have even understated the number."
With that remark, Blow helped us see one of the ways we humans are wired to behave:
People like Blow are confident in their assessments concerning who is "deplorable / racist / irredeemable." And if some of the Others are deplorable, that means that all Others are!
Throughout his column, Blow had been working the numbers in a rather strange way. He kept posting statistics which said that some Republicans were guilty of the crimes he alleged—and on that basis, he kept insisting that Biden should have denounced them all:
"No person who voted for Trump or supports him now is above being named and shamed," Blow wrote at the end of his essay. In this way, the columnist was "killing the pig," tens of millions of pigs at a time.
If you voted for Trump but don't support him now, you should be blamed and shamed too! Let's forget about any attempt to peel such voters away from the GOP column.
In our current "democratized" situation, a truly amazing number of Others believe the craziest things. To Us, such facts mean that all the Others qualify as deplorable racists.
Which of these tribes is behaving more poorly? More and more and more and more, we find it hard to say—but you really can't run a large modern nation this way.
Has our nation, such as it was, already ceased to exist? Watching these warring tribes in action, we're inclined to suspect that it has!
Tomorrow: Why Biden had to say what he did. What Biden could have said.