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About that 'basket of deplorables'

Let's get straight to it: Mrs Hillary Clinton's comments last Friday at a fund-raiser that half of Mr Donald Trump's supporters could be put in a "basket of deplorables" wasn't a smart political play.

Candidates do themselves a tremendous disservice when they attack voters rather than campaigns. Whatever advantage is procured through the rallying of one's own base is outweighed by what will be read as divisiveness and disdain.

Here is Mrs Clinton's full quote: "You know, 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. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people - now 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.

Then, she continued: "But the other basket - and I know this because I see friends from all over America here - I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas - as well as, you know, New York and California - but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathise with as well."

That second basket got too little attention. Context doesn't provide the sizzle on which shock media subsists. Noted.

What Mrs Clinton said was impolitic, but it was not incorrect. There are things a politician cannot say. Luckily, I'm not a politician.

Trump is a deplorable candidate - to put it charitably - and anyone who helps him advance his racial, religious and ethnic bigotry is part of that bigotry. Period.

Mr Trump is a deplorable candidate - to put it charitably - and anyone who helps him advance his racial, religious and ethnic bigotry is part of that bigotry. Period. Anyone who elevates a sexist is part of that sexism. The same goes for xenophobia. You can't conveniently separate yourself from the detestable part of him because you sense in him the promise of cultural or economic advantage. That hair cannot be split.

Furthermore, one doesn't have to actively hate to contribute to a culture that allows hate to flourish.

It doesn't matter how lovely your family, how honourable your work or service, how devout your faith - if you place ideological adherence or economic self-interest above the moral imperative to condemn and denounce a demagogue, then you are deplorable.

And there is some evidence that Mr Trump's supporters don't simply have a passive, tacit acceptance of an undesirable platform, but instead have an active set of beliefs that support what is deplorable in Mr Trump.

In state after state that Mr Trump won during the primaries, he won a majority or near majority of voters who supported a temporary ban on Muslims entering this country and who supported deporting immigrants who are in this country illegally.

In June a Reuters/Ipsos poll found: "Nearly half of Trump's supporters described African- Americans as more 'violent' than whites. The same proportion described African-Americans as more 'criminal' than whites, while 40 per cent described them as more 'lazy' than whites."

A Pew poll released in February found that 65 per cent of Republicans believe the next president should "speak bluntly even if critical of Islam as a whole" when talking about Islamic extremists.

Another Reuters/Ipsos online poll in July found that 58 per cent of Trump supporters have a "somewhat unfavourable" view of Islam and 78 per cent believe Islam was more likely to encourage acts of terrorism.

A February Public Policy Polling survey found "Trump's support in South Carolina is built on a base of voters among whom religious and racial intolerance pervades". What the poll found about those South Carolina supporters' beliefs was truly shocking:

  • Eighty per cent of likely Trump primary voters supported Mr Trump's proposed ban on Muslims.
  • Sixty-two per cent supported creating a national database of Muslims and 40 per cent supported shutting down mosques in the United States.
  • Thirty-eight per cent wished the South had won the Civil War.
  • Thirty-three per cent thought the practice of Islam should be illegal in this country.
  • Thirty-two per cent supported the policy of Japanese internment during World War II.
  • Thirty-one per cent would support a ban on homosexuals entering the country.

On Saturday, Mrs Clinton issued a statement pointing out that "I regret saying 'half' - that was wrong". Place the percentage where you will - or don't - but the fact is indisputable.

I understand that people recoil at the notion that they are part of a pejorative basket. I understand the reflexive resistance to having your negative beliefs disrobed and your sense of self dressed down.

I understand your outrage, but I'm unmoved by it. If the basket fits... NYTimes

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'About that 'basket of deplorables''. Print Edition | Subscribe