Jerry Maguire had Dorothy at “Hello.” Donald Trump had me at “Birther.” I had known for many years about Trump as a real estate magnate and reality TV star. But for me, his first foray into politics involved Birtherism. From that moment, I viewed him as a race-baiting demagogue who was willing to take America’s fragile social fabric and rip it to shreds. You only have one chance to make a first impression. For me, Trump made a lasting one.
You can’t exactly blame me for retaining that impression throughout his run for the nomination. One minute he was calling undocumented Mexicans “rapists.” The next minute he was mocking handicapped people and POWs. He thought nothing of accusing a female journalist of having “blood coming out of her eyes ... blood coming out of her whatever.” And then there was the piece de resistance – his call for banning from these shores all Muslims who were not already American citizens. As a Jew, I had to say to myself, “There but for the grace of God go I.” (My entire family overseas was killed in the Holocaust. But I can at least imagine the scenario where some of them had survived and wanted to come to America and were prevented from doing so on the basis of their religion by a demagogue politician.)
I thank God for Trump’s stunts yesterday. His Birtherist charade and his statement about removing Hillary’s security detail were just what the doctor ordered. You see, last week, for the first time since Donald Trump rode down the escalator to announce his candidacy, I was beginning to think he might actually become our next President. Fivethirtyeight.com has increased his chances from 11 percent in early-August to 40 percent today. That reflects the polling prior to yesterday, which was clearly an awful day for the Donald. But the latest polling is also a reminder that the past month has been a very good one for Trump relative to his opposition. Those of us who are rooting for that opposition had better hope that Trump continues to pull more and more of his zany stunts, because our gal hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard lately either, now has she?
For decades, Hillary has been pilloried by the hard right. But now she’s taking fire from those you’d expect to support her. For example, we have David Axelrod’s tweet that “Antibiotics can take care of pneumonia. What’s the cure for an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems?” We also have the leaked e-mails from Colin Powell, himself a huge Obama backer, including the comment that “everything H.R.C. touches she kind of screws up with hubris.” But for me, the moment of nausea was listening to the audio from one of her New York fundraisers where she decided to take on Donald Trump’s supporters. As if her comments weren’t disturbing enough, they were punctuated by rousing approval. When I heard that audio, I couldn’t help ask the question: and this is the lady I’m voting for?
In case you haven’t read Hillary’s comments in all their glory, here they are – and don’t forget to intersperse cheers galore when you’re creating your own private soundtrack of the event:
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, Islamaphobic -- 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.
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.
I’d like to think that if I had the bank book to attend that fundraiser and started hearing my candidate bashing the other guy’s voters, I would have immediately said “Oh shit, what is she doing?” rather than shout like my team just scored a touchdown. But that night, I would have been in the minority. The joint was jumping as she categorized tens of millions of Americans as “deplorable” and some unknown fraction of those “deplorables” as “irredeemable” – all the while feeling totally entitled to be their leader. Hubris indeed.
The thing is, though, I can’t tell you how many Hillary backers have told me that “She was right” when it comes to her “deplorables” paragraph. Some of her supporters have also gone on to say that if you put her comments in context, you’d move on to her next paragraph and see that, far from insulting all of Trump’s voters, she’s actually suggesting that many are worthy of empathy.
Let’s consider those defenses one at a time.
Hillary was, of course, correct, that some of Trump’s supporters are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. But Jefferson was a racist. Spinoza was a sexist. And Hillary, for her part, continued to oppose legalizing gay marriage for more than a year after Obama and Biden came out in favor it; she even waited long than Dick Cheney, if memory serves. The point is that just because you hold primitive or antiquated beliefs in one domain or another doesn’t make you “deplorable,” let alone “irredeemable.” There’s the sin ... and there’s the sinner ... and they are two very different animals. Hillary should know better. Lord knows she comes from a family that has sinned on the grandest possible stage, and I’m not just talking about her support for the Iraq War.
And then there’s her second paragraph – where she asked us to empathize with the other “half” of Trump’s voters, the ones who think 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.” Actually, Hillary, many people are voting for Trump because they’re Republicans or conservative Independents and have rationally decided that he is more likely to support their principles than you are. They believe in laissez-faire economics and a small federal government, they’re sincerely pro-life on abortion, and they strongly support gun rights. How can any progressive expect them not to vote for Trump? And why should we talk about them as if they’re all living on skid row and wallowing in alienation?
And Hillary, as for your comment about the Trump voter being “desperate for change,” who the hell isn’t? The last time I checked, we have an insanely large gap in net worth between the folks to whom you were preaching that glorious evening in Fun City and the tens of millions of Americans who either live in poverty or can see it from their rear view mirrors. Instead of “empathizing” with those who are desperate for change, why don’t you tell us what changes YOU are desperate for?
I’ve been hearing, Hillary, that your campaign website has a quintillion pages filled with specific policy proposals. But strangely enough, I’m too busy to read all quintillion. (I actually have to work for a living; I can’t afford to spend all my time attending fundraisers and mocking poor people.) So please, Hillary, for the little people like me, make it simple – tell us about four or five ways in which you will clearly and dramatically change America. And say it like you mean it. Bonus points if you confine those changes to topics on which you haven’t flip-flopped for political-expediency purposes.
All that having been said, Hillary Clinton could spend the next six weeks talking about nothing other than how dumb the Trump voter is, and I’d still vote for her. That’s how much Trump scares me. That’s how little I think of Birtherism, Muslim bans, and mocking POWs.
I wouldn’t exactly say that Hillary has earned my vote. But Trump has certainly earned my willingness to place a checkmark next to Hillary’s name. You know the old saw, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed woman is queen. Hell, even if she says she’s running for Queen instead of President, I might still vote for her. Thanks a lot, Donald.