By Matt Epstein ’19
At a Sept. 9 fundraiser, former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton made what some have considered the largest political gaffe of her campaign, stating that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables’.” By the next morning, the Trump campaign, as well as many Republicans had condemned her comments, with Trump himself labeling her remarks as “insulting to millions of amazing, hardworking people”.
In the wake of the criticism surrounding her statements, Clinton apologized, calling her words “grossly generalistic.” While her comments were likely a less-than-intelligent political move, they do beg an important question: was she right?
At this point in the presidential race, it’s no secret that the Trump campaign has, at times, pandered to those who are racist, sexist, or generally intolerant toward certain groups of people. While all presidential candidates try to appeal to subsets of people during their campaigns, the Trump campaign’s rhetoric alone doesn’t necessarily mean that “half” of his supporters are bigoted in some way. To better assess Secretary Clinton’s comments, it is necessary to look at potential correlations between presidential polls and those surrounding issues of bigotry. Since pollsters can not ask people “are you a racist?” (who would say yes?), they ask questions that hint at racism, and while polls should always be taken with a grain of salt, it turns out that Clinton might not have been “grossly generalistic,” but spot on.
Since 2011, Donald Trump has headed the “birther movement,” which claims that President Obama was born outside of the United States (although Trump recently admitted that this was not true). Many have regarded the birther movement as racist, attempting to delegitimize our first African-American president. If the movement is in fact rooted in racism, then according to a May 2016 Public Policy Polling, the 59 percent of Trump supporters who agree that the President was not born in the U.S., also harbor at least some degree of racism. In the same poll, 65 percent of Trump supporters said they think that President Obama is a Muslim. Now, maybe questioning our president’s birthplace or religion doesn’t make you a racist. However, according to a 2016 ANES poll, over 75 percent of Trump supporters feel that Muslims are more violent than whites; a Reuters poll conducted from March-June 2016 found that nearly half of Trump supporters think that blacks are “more violent” than whites. Sure, the birther movement might be open to interpretation, but saying that a specific group of people is especially violent because of their skin color or religion is textbook bigotry.
Hillary Clinton’s comment that half of Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables” was met with outrage from the Trump campaign and his constituents alike. Were her comments politically incorrect? They might have been. Were they factually incorrect? That depends on your definition of deplorable, but there is no arguing that, at least half of Trump supporters might be bigots.
By Matt Epstein ’19