Their Deplorables and Ours

Photograph Source: TwinsofSedona – CC0

Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” speech at a September 2016 fundraiser probably did her campaign more harm than she claims her favorite scapegoats, “the Russians” and James Comey, could ever have hoped to do.

But what she said wasn’t wrong; many a Trump supporter back then was deplorable by any and all reasonable standards. Many of them were racists or nativists or twenty-first century fascists; many approached the election in thrall to barely suppressed inner demons yearning to breathe free.

But this was not the whole story.

Many, maybe most, Trump supporters were victims of economic dislocation. Clintonite (neoliberal) economic policies had a lot to do with that.

And then there is the role that identity politics played. It would be too easy to believe, as many do, that white identity politics, the Southern variety especially, just is white supremacism. In fact, white identity politics comes in many flavors.

Many non- or only minimally deplorable Trump voters were moved more by benign family or regional values than by racist attitudes or convictions.

And many just wanted to give the new guy a try. Trump supporters, especially ones who had supported Barack Obama four and eight years earlier, were disillusioned by his dismal performance in office, but as interested as ever in “hope” and “change.”

Trying the Donald out would have almost been a reasonable thing to do if, as in more democratic liberal democracies, there were comparatively easy ways to correct for voters’ mistakes. We don’t have anything like that; we have impeachment.

How onerous and difficult to implement that process can be seems not quite to have registered in the minds of desperate Trump voters, many of whom probably did suspect that they were being conned, but who were nevertheless willing to give the conman a chance.

The comparatively undemocratic institutions our “founders” stuck us with are a large part of the problem; Southern planters and well-off northern merchants dependent on the slave trade had little love for government of, by, and for the people.

Democrats were a large part of the problem too. Like liberals generally according to Robert Frost, many of them were too reasonable to take their own side in an argument.

Their cowardice and insipidity did not cause Trump to win the popular vote. Quite to the contrary, Clinton won that handily. But Trump did win enough votes in the right places for the Electoral College to hand the victory to him.

Now, though, after two and a half years of him, only the terminally obtuse could fail to see how unfit he is for the office he holds, and how dangerous it is that he is there.

But Democrats will be Democrats; and so, even to this day, the party’s leaders and most of its base seem as passive and pusillanimous as ever.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, now, as in 2006, when Democrats bent on impeachment might have been able to stop or at least impede the Bush-Cheney wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, their leader in the House of Representatives is Nancy Pelosi, the impeachment-is-off-the-table queen.

Not to see Trump for what he is, or to see and not care that his emotional immaturity and rank ignorance pose a clear and present danger to life on earth “as we know it” is the very essence of deplorability.

Excuses could be made for being conned two and a half years ago. All but the willfully blind knew back then that Trump was a vulgarian, an ignoramus, and a buffoon, but whether to vote for him or Clinton was, or could seem to be, complicated even so.

Not anymore. By now, it is absolutely and unequivocally clear: anyone of sound mind and body who is still for Trump is deplorable – full stop.

There are however two mitigating factors that should be taken into account.

The first is Fox News and other rightwing media. They have given Trump a formidable propaganda system – dumbing down and misinforming millions of Americans. Abraham Lincoln was right — you can fool some of the people all of the time. Fox and the others are doing it.

It is not that their powers are especially extraordinary. It is just that wherever there are people aching to be fooled, they will find others eager to fool them or, failing that, they will find ways to fool themselves.

To be sure, reality generally prevails in the end. But lives are lived and politics is done day by day, where Fox and the others are often able to call the shots, especially in benighted quarters where it hardly matters that inconvenient facts are absolutely and unequivocally clear.

The other mitigating factor is that Trump is often more right than his Democratic rivals – not for good and principled reasons, but because of the utter deplorability of the other side.

Trump likes to look and talk tough, but when it comes down to it, he, like other bullies, is a coward. Fortunately for the world, this character flaw has so far made him more likely to shy away from potentially catastrophic military engagements than, say, the Clintons, both of them, or even the comparatively peace-loving Barack Obama.

Trump surely is the worst president in this century or the last and maybe ever by almost any measure. But, when it comes to killing and setting murder and mayhem in motion, so far at least, he has been better than Obama and many orders of magnitude better than Bush 43.

He deserves an F for coherence, a D- for implementation, and a zero for conduct befitting a head of state and Commander-in-Chief of a military equipped with enough nuclear weapons to blow the earth to smithereens many times over. He commands bases on every continent, and the most over-the-top military juggernaut, in the history of the world. And yet he governs through semi-literate tweets, seemingly oblivious to the real world consequences of his flip flops, twists and turns.

What he does have are relatively fixed instincts that bear on questions of war and peace. These lead him sometimes to say what any sensible, realist in his position would: that the United States should seek détente with actual and potential enemies; diffuse, not exacerbate, tensions that could lead to war, especially nuclear war; and steer clear of efforts at “regime change,” not out of lofty commitments to international law and order, but because regime change policies are unsettling and almost always go poorly and end badly.

Too bad that he is so easily dissuaded by whatever he hears on Fox News and so ready to sign on to the machinations of the neoconservative kakistocrats (“kakistocracy” means rule of the worst) he has appointed to positions of authority.

Also his comparatively sane attitudes go missing where Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies are concerned. It is probably not so much that his instincts fail him in that part of the world as that they are swamped by his ties to the peerless Ivanka’s in-laws and other nefarious real estate cronies, and to the pull of the “benjamins” being thrown about by the likes of Sheldon Adelson and his co-thinkers.

Trump evidently missed the day in business school, and before that at the military academy where his parents sent young Donald to straighten out, when they dealt with all the stuff that educated people, including presidents, are supposed to know.

For “knowing that” and “knowing how” Trump gets failing grades across the entire curriculum; and is proud of it. Bush was aware of his similarly obvious limitations, and was never too proud to reject the ministrations of his family’s friends and fixers. Obama was smarter and wiser than either his predecessor or his successor, but he too approached his tasks with appropriate humility.

Trump, on the other hand, thinks that to become the greatest leader ever all he needs to do is follow his gut. Too bad that, thanks to cheeseburgers and junk food, his gut is wrecked beyond repair!

Thus the respects in which Democrats are even worse than Trump do not do much to diffuse the charge of Trumpian deplorability. He is more right than his Democratic Party rivals only in very circumscribed areas and, even then, the differences are usually more aspirational than real.

But pointing them out does help clarify what might otherwise pass unnoticed to most people– that the Democratic Party establishment and the corporate media that serve it are deplorable too. As for the rank-and-file, it all depends on whether and to what extent they tow the line.

Deplorability is a fluid concept, but we know it when we see it. Trump put his administration in deplorable territory from Day One with his Muslim ban; it has been downhill from there ever since.

It is widely believed that Trump’s execrability comes at least in part from his determination “to throw red meat” to his base. No doubt sadism and racism are part of the explanation too.

The base he placates and nurtures is a piece of work. It is huge too. According to nearly all the polls, some 40% of voters support Trump still. Nobody does that casually or out of curiosity any more.

Needless to say, the alternative is a lot bigger and presumably a whole lot better. But what consolation is there in that with so many Trumpians around?

A lot, one might think. Trump’s opponents are good people. And if they sometimes think or act stupidly – say, by entertaining the idea of running Joe Biden or some other unreconstructed Clintonite “centrist” – why not just let it pass when the important thing is defeating Trump?

I would say that the sentiment behind this position is plausible and understandable but ultimately wrong-headed. There is much that could be said in its defense, however – not so much because focusing only on Trump is unwise and perhaps even self-defeating, but also because there are mitigating factors that affect Democratic deplorables too, which we ignore at our peril.

How, after all could common sense and right reason not sometimes fail when the alternatives to the Fox propaganda systems are corporate media outlets populated by Clintonites, along with superannuated military officers, retired intelligence agents, and anti-Trump Republicans who have gone over to the side of the angels, but whose political consciousness has barely evolved since the days when they were working for the unindicted war criminal who, thanks to Trump, is now only the second worst American president in modern times.

By the way, we have Obama and Eric Holder to thank for letting all but a few low level Bush era war criminals off scot-free. With that thought in mind, this would be an appropriate time to marvel at what an ingrate Liz Cheney is for bad mouthing those two every chance she gets.

In the Pantheon of miscreant political offspring, she ranks right up there with Meghan McCain, daughter of one of America’s foremost Vietnam War enthusiasts, a sentiment that he managed to carry over to every subsequent war of choice the United States undertook.

But because Trump hated Mr. Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran, inveterate Cold Warriors, especially ones who do Netanyahu’s bidding and who want to blame Trump’s victory on anything but Hillary, love him to pieces. Talk about deplorables! What else can you call born and bred Russophobes and who need to take potential nuclear confrontations right up to the brink in order to be truly happy.

Deplorables of the Trumpian type agitate for proxy wars and economic wars and other reckless nonsense, but this is not their main passion. That would be wanting to make America white and patriarchal and homophobic again – as if it still wasn’t those things and worse already.

Kinder gentler Democratic deplorables avoid all that, but even as they promote their cult of niceness — Trumpians call it “political correctness” — they make nuclear war more likely. Maybe that is better. But if it isn’t deplorable too, nothing is.


Nowadays, those who disdain the usual euphemisms when talking or writing about, say, the concentration camps that the United States maintains for Central Americans and others seeking relief from situations in their home countries for which the United States bears major responsibility – like those who would dare mention Israeli war crimes, crimes against the peace, and crimes against humanity in Gaza and the Occupied Territories – are all but required to say at some point that of course the Nazis were worse.

No doubt, they were in most instances, though, as news comes out of the sadistic cruelty and depraved indifference of Border Patrol and ICE agents, and of Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, one has to wonder.

In the same way, whoever would speak of anything deplorable that mainstream Democrats do is all but obliged to make it abundantly clear that Trump and his deplorables are worse.

This profession of faith in Trump’s consummate wickedness would seem unnecessary. Nevertheless let it be so stipulated, as lawyers would say: Trump is worse; Trumpians are more deplorable than Democrats.

He and they are so awful that this assessment ought just to be taken for granted. Nevertheless is worth saying a little more about it because it is important to be clear on what the lesser, subtler kind of deplorability involves.

Deplorables in the orbit of the MSNBC-CNN propaganda system don’t lust for

nuclear showdowns in the way that Trump supporters with minds glued to Fox and other like-minded propaganda outfits delight in the misfortunes of Muslims and Hispanic immigrants and asylum seekers.

Unlike the Trump deplorables, they don’t like it when Trump’s minions separate babies, toddlers, and school age children from their mothers; and they take no joy in the construction of concentration camps.

Bill Clinton’s last Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, famously declared that is was “worth it” for half a million Iraqis to have died sooner than they otherwise would thanks to U.S. sanctions. But even Mad Maddy was generally free of bloodlust. So are most Clintonites and the Clintons themselves.

They do follow their party’s general line, however; no matter how preposterous its twists and turns.

Therefore if, for whatever reason, the call goes out to dump on Iran and its non-state allies, but not Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf, or to turn the keys to the Magic Kingdom over to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, then that is what the deplorable mainstream Democratic Party will advocate doing.

If our military and their corporate friends decide that, to have adversaries worthy of themselves, Russian and Chinese adversaries – real armies, not ragtag bands of religious fanatics — then they need to revive ways of thinking and acting that the end of the Cold War had almost entirely obliterated. To that end, Democrats will support them a thousand percent –“unencumbered,” as the Car Talk guys used to say, “by the thought process.”

If they want to castigate the Russians and the Chinese for imperiling freedom of the press and, they claim, for putting journalists’ lives in mortal jeopardy, even as they shamelessly give an all but confirmed murderer, Mohammad bin Salman, son-in-law Jared’s best buddy, a pass, so be it.

And if they want to condone the unconscionable punishments meted out to Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning – for publishing truthful material of great importance to the general public – then they will back them on that too. After all, Assange and Manning embarrassed Obama and Clinton by revealing some of their shenanigans and exposing their incompetence. They therefore deserve whatever they get.

If the stakes were lower, this would merely be funny; extreme hypocrisy often is. We could savor the spectacle of the leaders of the biggest serial meddler in history making a federal case, as it were, out of the piddling meddling of others into its own affairs.

And we could marvel at the reverence expressed for America’s democratic institutions in our corporate media. Those vaunted institutions are actually among the least democratic of all the institutions in all the liberal democracies in the entire so-called Free World.

Much like the Republican obduracy so much in evidence in the Obama years, the level of hypocrisy within Russia-gate circles rises almost to the level of the sublime.

But the stakes are high as can be; so this is risky business – risky enough to count as deplorable, if not quite by Trumpian standards, then the next best (i.e. worst) thing.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).