Let’s start with this: Hillary Clinton committed a political gaffe last week when she described half of Donald Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” racists, xenophobes and homophobes.
But it was a political gaffe in the classic definition of the word, the one made famous by journalist Michael Kinsley. It revealed a deeper truth about the current state of our politics.
And Trump’s reaction to it was utterly predictable.
During an appearance at the National Guard Association’s annual conference in Baltimore on Monday, Trump said he was “deeply shocked and alarmed,” that Clinton would speak so scathingly of his supporters, whom he pronounced “wonderful, amazing people.”
Of course, exactly who Trump counts among those “wonderful, amazing” people is open to some debate.
After all, this is the same candidate who spent the back half of August making a transparently cynical ploy for the black vote by telling African-Americans that their lives were already so awful that they had “nothing to lose,” by abandoning Clinton for him.
And this is the same candidate who insulted soldiers and veterans by describing the nation’s top generals as “rubble” during a cable forum on MSNBC last week.
So let’s just assume that Trump was talking about his base: The same white, blue-collar voters who pack his rallies, who propelled him to the nomination back in July and who were treated to his deeply insulting (and inaccurate) description of the nation’s black population.
In the year since Trump entered the race, I’ve spoken to supporters from all over the country. And most of them are, as advertised, decent, hard-working folks who want the same thing the rest of us want.
There was Ralph Zorn, 67, a retired coal miner from Somerset County. He was backing Trump because “he’s going to create jobs and get our infrastructure going.”
Then there was 19-year-old Dalton Asper. The University of Alabama sophomore was voting Trump because he just didn’t “like mainstream Washington,” and thought “an outsider would be nice.”
But for every Dalton Asper and Ralph Zorn, there’s Alan Fuchs, who emailed: “All you bleeding-heart liberals need to pull your heads out of your a***es and get real. All lives matter and if they do what the police ask then there is no problums (sic).
“If the black people would get an education and learn to read and talk properly, they could all get jobs, [and] not wait for [government] handouts. It’s time for a wake up call,” he concluded.
Or there’s reader Scott Southerland, who signed his email in a dramatic, flowing cursive font, only to have his prose slide into the gutter.
“If the scourge of humanity manages to elect Hillary Rotten [obscenity for female genitalia], patriots in this country will fight,” he wrote. “No wonder Onegro’s administration wants the guns and ammo? It’s the scourge of humanity that is doing all of the shooting & killings in the U.S. to begin with. Time for straight talk.”
When I had occasion to write about Trump’s inexplicable affection for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and of Putin’s dabbling in Ukraine, reader Rex Zark wanted to know if I was “a zionist jew neocon.”
“There was nothing wrong with the democraticly (sic) elected govt. of Ukraine, until zionist jew neocons … said it was bad,” he wrote.
Those anecdotal examples are buttressed by polling data, which find broad majorities of the Republican nominee’s backers holding explicitly hostile views of religious, racial and ethnic minorities.
As Vox noted, a Reuters/Ipsos poll in June found that Trump supporters were twice as likely as Clinton’s backers to hold negative views of Muslims.
A Pew poll cited by Vox found half of Trump’s supporters believed undocumented immigrants were more likely than native-born citizens to commit serious crimes, compared to 11 percent of Clinton’s backers.
Again, the anecdotal examples cited above are likely not representative of the majority of Trump’s supporters. But they are enough to be worrisome.
And Trump, with his gleeful flaunting of the social niceties he dismisses as punitive correctness, has created the conditions under which some people now feel free to give full voice to the most vile of sentiments.
That Trump has continued to incite these hatreds instead of stopping them in their tracks?
Well, that’s deplorable.
Micek is an award-winning political journalist and opinion editor and columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at [email protected]