Talking to “deplorables”

Clinton should address Trump’s bigots directly, with suggestions as to how.

Where Hillary Clinton went wrong was not the analysis of Trump’s supporters, which is spot-on. Nor the description “deplorables” for the bigots, which is fair and she now owns, nor even the “half” she apologised for, which is near enough accurate. It was in talking about them in the third person. They are American citizens, whom (holding her nose) she will have to serve and protect as President.

She should address them directly. It’s a tough challenge. Suggestions below; commenters please add more.


I would like to address the part of Donald Trump’s supporters whom I described as “deplorables” : the racists, white supremacists, Islamophobes, xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists, and conspiracy theorists. You are, I’m sorry to say, my fellow American citizens. I don’t take back the label. But if and when I am elected President by the votes of other Americans, the Electoral College, and the grace of God, I will swear to serve all Americans, including you. So please hear me out.

I have made hundreds of speeches during this long campaign and will make many more. In the normal run of things, I talk to those who already support me, to encourage them to vote for me, Tim Kaine and other Democrats, and help others to vote; and to the undecided, in hopes they will come to do so on election day. Your votes I do not seek, and would treat them as a dishonour. I utterly reject your bigotry.

But, I repeat, as President I would be President of all Americans. It would be my solemn duty to protect even your constitutional rights and to “faithfully execute the laws”. I would defend your rights to assemble and peacefully express your opinions, however hateful I find them. I would protect your right to bear arms – in a well-regulated way that keeps guns out of the hands of criminals and nutcases, and sensibly limits their lethality.

The other side of the coin is that the laws will be enforced. Intimidation of others by weapons, threats to law enforcement officers, direct incitement to violence, illegal occupation of national parks and other public lands, threats to abortion clinics and attacks on their staff, discrimination against other Americans on grounds of their gender or skin colour: these and similar behaviour are crimes and it will be my duty, as that of any President, to enforce the laws against them. You have been warned.

It is far from your worst offence against decency, but one I find particularly irritating, that some of you have hijacked the lovely term of “sovereign citizen” for an absurd doctrine of self-exclusion from the rule of law, a radical Wild West anarchism. Let us claim it back. The American people are indeed “sovereign citizens”: our great Constitution has made us so, and together – together – we make the laws that govern us under it, and our children and aliens within our jurisdiction. That is the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance. “Sovereign citizens” has no singular form.

That is what I have to offer you, and it is not negotiable. Nothing you can do will make me change these views, for they are not political options or policy choices but what I see as fundamental principles of the American state. What, then, can I ask of you?

To stay home on election day. Consider this. You support Donald Trump because you think he shares your repellent values and would as President deliver on your hateful agenda. Really? When did Mr Trump deliver on any important promise? I can’t recall any occasion. His business and political career has been one shell game after another. Does he really share your values? I don’t accuse him of being a real bigot, just a perfectly hollow man without any convictions except in his own genius, an echo chamber that reshapes itself to play back exactly what his audience wants to hear.

Have you noticed his secret plans? He has a secret plan to defeat ISIS. This turns out to be ordering the Pentagon to produce one. He has a secret plan to make Mexico pay for a huge wall along our southern frontier, though the President of Mexico told him it would never do so. He has a secret plan to bring back jobs to miners and steelworkers. He has a secret plan to expel millions of illegal immigrants with criminal records on his first day of office. Ask him for details, and he changes the subject to a different secret plan. You have seen conjurors at fairs: we are taken in by misdirection, one hand flamboyantly attracts our attention while the other makes the switch unobserved. Trump is a master conjuror. He pulls one rabbit after another out of his orange top hat, then they disappear in a puff of sparkly smoke. If I were a bigot like you, I would not trust him to deliver anything. Whatever your beliefs, he just isn’t worth voting for.

I forgot. There is one other promise he made. That was to delegate the actual work of running the country. He does not expect to show up for work at 8:30 every day, but to sleep in, then swan around looking “Presidential” and providing “Leadership”, in quotes, from more top hats and white rabbits. On this one, you and I can trust him absolutely.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

11 thoughts on “Talking to “deplorables””

  1. The substance seems reasonable: you have Hillary saying "I will serve all Americans, even you, but will still oppose actions that are illegal and against our Nation's principles" and "You can't trust Trump to serve anyone's interests but his own." But even people with deplorable views and who have taken deplorable actions deserve a bit of diplomacy.

    In particular, your wording seems to take too seriously the lazy essentialism of calling people "deplorables", rather than calling their views and actions deplorable. Calling people "deplorables" suggests that this this is their essential nature, which they can't change, rather than people who hold deplorable views and take deplorable actions that they may be able to change.

    It would seem more effective to change the litany of "-ists" in the first sentence to something more like "people who endorse discrimination against others simply on the basis of their skin color, who argue that white people are superior to everyone else, and deserve greater rights and privileges…etc. Wordy, yes, but it keeps the focus on their deplorable deeds and conveys that the people who commit them are not necessarily irredeemable.

    Also, how clearly can anyone really distinguish between the "deplorables" who go in basket one, and those in basket two who, in Clinton's words, "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" Do these people never express deplorable views, and never act on them? Do none of those in basket one behave deplorably because they feel the same way? I don't have any wording to propose, but I sure would like to see a speech like this offer a bit more empathy and a path to redemption.

    1. I agree with the thrust of your first three paragraphs. She – and we – should condemn more the sin and less the sinner. Even knowing that these particular sinners are most unlikely to reform.

      Your last paragraph is probably true as well. The bigotry and the insecurity are connected. However, HRC is now stuck with her Manichaean dichotomy, an attempt to split Trump's supporters. She can't walk it back. My text is intended a way for her to stay on the offensive while looking less snooty and claiming the high ground of national unity.

  2. Reagan was the first President who did not even pay lip service to the notion of being President of all the people. He took sides. By the political analogue of Gresham's Law, this is the new status quo. The Republican Party has repeatedly doubled down on a strategy of no-coexistence and there is no longer any exploitable common ground between the factions. Any attempt to do so is either a piece of strategic misdirection or, if sincere, displays a complete failure of situational awareness.

    The notion, outlined by a commenter above, that the effects of propaganda can be reversed by opposite propaganda, is subject to the political analogue of Gresham's Law. The currency can be debased, but it cannot be incrementally revalued; a fresh start is required.

  3. I would rather put fortj a spirited defense of a new cosmopolitanism (the tribe of all people working together) and oppose it to the tragic tribalism by skin color, race, religion, etc that Trumpists adhere to. The former is the tribe of love and unity, the latter is the tribalism of hate.

    In fact, this "new" cosmopolitanism is the real America we've always had as children of the Enlightenment and believers in universal brotherhood and the inherent equality of man. This cosmopolitanism is exactly what the the Trumpists are against.

    – Sorry for not really addressing the speech above – it's a decent speech – but I would like to see a spirited defense of what Democrats are really standing FOR (against Trump and his alt-right neo-supremacist types.) The issue of Trump-as-fraud is a point worth making, but it's somewhat besides the point in this civilizational conflict – a new Trump could come along who's less obviously fraudulent.

    1. Didn't HRC do this at the convention, and pretty well too? Not that the MSM are the least bit interested in her ideas. Trump will not engage with them at all, so there is no debate to report in Both Sides terms.

  4. That is what she and other Democrats did do at the convention – and that helped inspire my post above. I'd like to see her continue in that vein – maybe make a 30-second presentation out of it for the debates. The Democratic convention seemed to do very well for her in the polls, that's for sure.

    How can you put something into the news which brings out the bright spirit of the cosmpolitan community in America and shames the darkness of the crude tribal leader? Well, thinking back to the convention, the Khans did that pretty well.

    I wish I knew exactly how to put that into a speech or a news event.

    It's also true that there's a certain relationship between Trumpian fraudulence (where the truth is a matter of complete indifference) and Trumpian politics of subjective pre-Enlightenment tribalism. But I find it hard to make a nail out of it that one could hammer on – maybe like "Wheeler-dealer Donald Trump" – the used- car salesman who relentlessly talks aggressively and ends up with his hand in your pocket – all talk, never delivers, like he never delivered for those Trump University students, like he never delivered for those small businesses that did that work for him. Sure, his line of talk sounds good – until you realize your money is gone and he never came up with the goods.

    And then you could launch into all the contradictions and lies.

    But you've got to put a good psychological peg on it. All-talk wheeler-dealer used-car-salesman is as good as I can do right now.

  5. You know, I don't think a lot of those votes are winnable. Should she nonetheless reach out in the same way that Trump is reaching out to African-American voters? (That is, not really at all, except as a performance for college educated whites to observe.) Maybe there's something to that.

    1. You are plainly right about the zero chance of vote-switching. The slightly more realistic objective is abstention: for which the conman argument that I tried to develop is perfectly sound. But the real target of such a speech would not be the deplorables but the other basket, the merely insecure and resentful tribal Republicans. A direct address to the bigots would counter the perception of Clinton as a chilly and snobbish liberal élitist. That perception extends even to many who plan to vote for her. It also looks forward to a real policy challenge to her Presidency: caging the forces of bigotry that Trump has legitimised and fed.

      It goes against the grain. Most of us learn young that engaging in shouting matches with diehards and bigots is a waste ot time and energy, and often dangerous, so it's best simply to walk away. But this is not a normal election, and Clinton has to deal with a racist opponent head-on. It's encouraging for the debates that she is sticking to her guns.

  6. Let’s get straight to it: Hillary Clinton’s comments Friday at a fund-raiser that half of 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.
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