Basket Cases

In his first year on the Court [Clarence Thomas] scarcely ever left the Supreme Court Building on foot, and that was fortunate, in one way, because it meant that he probably never saw the boldly lettered [graffiti] on a Capitol Hill sidewalk across the street. It said, “Anita Told the Truth.”

“The Burden of Clarence Thomas,” Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, September 27, 1993 issue

Twenty-five years later, you can’t help wondering if someone will walk down a Capitol Hill sidewalk, whip out a can of spray paint, and scrawl the following: “Hillary Told the Truth.”

It was two years ago today that Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated a few inconvenient facts at a fundraiser in New York City:

We are living in a volatile political environment. 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 how 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.

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 empathize with as well.

There wasn’t one word of Clinton’s statement that was false. Just because right-wingers had a hissy fit over those remarks didn’t make them false.

Two years after Clinton’s statement, can any rational person deny that at least half of Trump’s supporters–if not more–fit into the category Clinton described? How else do you describe folks who hurl bigoted insults and death threats at Democratic gubernatorial candidates, as well as abuse 911 in an attempt to have law enforcement officials inflict harm on innocent people of color? How else do you describe folks who make terrorist threats against journalists? How else do you describe people who proudly proclaim, “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat?”

As for those in the other basket, Michael Avenatti affirmed the accuracy of Clinton’s assessment last month:

He did note, though, that Trump voters shouldn’t be considered the enemy, and that the Democratic Party should reach out to those whose support of the president may have soured. They should be thought of “not as evildoers but as victims of a great con,” he said. “Decent people get conned all the time, and let’s face it, Trump is a very good con man.”

The “basket of deplorables” speech will be remembered by honest historians as the 21st century equivalent of President Jimmy Carter’s July 1979 speech on energy–the so-called “malaise speech.” That was another moment where a Democratic politician told the American people some inconvenient facts–only to be dishonestly attacked by Republicans for doing so. It takes courage to say truths that some don’t want to hear and others will distort. Clinton did nothing wrong when she spoke of the “basket of deplorables.” The only thing wrong about her statement was the reaction from the right.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.