Friday, September 23, 2016

There Are No "Deplorables"

A couple of weeks ago Hillary Clinton made a comment at a fundraiser in New York to the effect that half of the voters supporting Donald Trump's candidacy belong to a "basket of deplorables". She included in this metaphorical basket people who are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic, as well as other unspecified categories.

The comment was obviously bad politics, and Clinton suffered for it for a few news cycles. As one commentator put it: it's fine to denigrate your opponent, but never a good idea to denigrate the electorate (see "Romney, Mitt, 47 percent").

Trump supporters, of course, immediately decried the statement. Clinton supporters, and in particular many statistically- and data-minded academics, immediately began discussing whether 50% was too high or too low an estimate. But here's the thing that the Clinton supporters and data-miners missed:

Clinton was fundamentally wrong.

She was not wrong in the sense of getting the numbers incorrect. She was wrong for a much more basic reason: people aren't "deplorables".

People aren't Skittles, either. They're not "makers" or "takers", they're not Republicans or Democrats, "losers" or "rednecks" or "thugs".

People are people. If we insist that we treat one group of people - blacks, Syrian refugees, conservatives, what have you - with dignity and respect, that's only because we believe that all people are worthy of dignity and respect.

Most of us, in practice, don't really believe this in a practical way. We afford dignity and respect to people who are like us, or people whom we sympathize with. It's good when we do so for people who have been denied respect, because denying basic human dignity is wrong. That's why Trump Jr.'s tweet about Skittles was so bizarrely offensive - he was making it clear, by equating human lives with candy, that some lives (Americans) are more important than others (Syrian refugees). "I might get hurt if I try to help you, so screw you - you're not worth the risk" was the basic message. And yes, that's racist.

Think this is only a conservative/Republican/Trump problem? Check out this meme, widely circulated in liberal circles:

This hits a lot of classic stereotypes: poor, stupid white redneck with a pickup, no shirt, and hay between his teeth. It plays on a narrative of rural whites as morons, inferior to those of us who "know better". In its own way, it's as racist as the image of the hoodie-wearing urban black man - an object of ridicule and scorn (and often, of fear).

I'm not interested in offering advice or direction to either political campaign, or to voters. My point here isn't political at all, it's moral and theological. For those of us who claim adherence to the Christian faith, Hilary's "basket of deplorables" comment was as far away from the Kingdom of God as many of the terrible things that Trump has said. Because in the eyes of God, nobody is "deplorable".

There are deplorable ideas, deplorable actions, deplorable behavior. Christians call these "sin". But the fact that people sin does not make them "deplorables"; it makes them sinners, which is to say it makes them human like the rest of us.

This is one reason I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the conduct of American politics. We don't disagree with our fellow citizens (or even our opponents), we demonize and dehumanize our enemies. The people that Clinton called "deplorables" are humans made in the image and likeness of God, just as much as the "losers" that Trump is so fond of talking about or the "Skittles" that Trump Jr. insists are poisoned.

The recent shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte have brought back to the fore this basic question: are we really treating all citizens with dignity and respect? It seems clear that the answer is "no", but for anyone who believes in the fundamental nature of human dignity that's not a liberal or conservative problem - it's a fundamentally human one. It's not a problem we will solve by continuing to demonize each other, much less by winning an election. If we really believe that all people are worthy of dignity and respect, we should speak and act like it.

1 comment:

  1. Your a better man than I Bill. When I encounter people who are gloatingly racist, or people who cling to ignorance or rumors despite all evidence, who are willing to substitute hateful opinions for any kind of fact based argument, well, sorry not sorry, as they say. Can't respect it. Just not that big hearted.