Worst Appeals to Authority

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on September 14, 2016

Worst Appeals to Authority

Miss America contestants 2017

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Worst Appeals to Authority
“Is Miss America Still Relevant? Definitely, Say the Contestants.”—headline, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 9

America, Love It or Weave It
Our first reaction to Hillary Clinton’s phrase “basket of deplorables” was similar to that of Glenn Reynolds, who observes that it is “an awful line” because it is “memorable without being evocative.” We thought of a picnic basket and found it difficult to imagine one big enough to hold a single person, much less the tens of millions Mrs. Clinton had in mind.

When we read the phrase in context, however, our amusement at the goofy phrase turned to horror. This may be the worst thing any American politician has said in recent memory.

Here, courtesy of BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer, is what the acutely infirm Mrs. Clinton said Friday at the LGBT for Hillary gala in New York:

I know there are only 60 days left to make our case—and don’t get complacent, don’t see the latest outrageous, offensive, inappropriate comment and think well he’s done this time. We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of [Donald] Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? [Laughter/applause] 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 have 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 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. [Applause]

This has been widely compared to previous gaffes by Barack Obama (bitter clingers, 2008) and Mitt Romney (47%, 2012), and there are some striking resemblances.

In all three cases, the candidates were speaking to well-heeled donors at fundraising events, and each delivered a bit of political analysis by way of an appeal to snobbery. That is, each flattered his donors by encouraging them to feel superior to ordinary voters on the other side. But although all three appeals were unattractive, Mrs. Clinton’s was by far the ugliest.

The Trump supporters in the “second basket”—she doesn’t give them a name, but let’s call them the “pitiables”—sound very much like Obama’s bitter clingers, who backed Mrs. Clinton in the 2008 Pennsylvania primary. In a statement issued by the campaign Saturday, Mrs. Clinton asserted: “As I said, many of Trump’s supporters are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel like the economy or our political system are working for them.”

That echoes her description of her own supporters in a May 2008 interview with USA Today:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA Today. As evidence, [Mrs.] Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

Mrs. Clinton was tone-deaf and condescending, like Obama and Romney, in describing the “second basket” of Trump supporters. (Though unlike them, she knew the media were present, suggesting a certain recklessness on her part.) But neither Obama nor Romney condemned his opponent’s supporters the way Mrs. Clinton did the “deplorables.”

Let us acknowledge here that some Trump supporters do indeed express deplorable views—including anti-Semitism, which Mrs. Clinton pointedly omitted from her recitation of invidious isms and phobias. Her Saturday statement included an apology, albeit an ambiguous and extremely narrow one: “I regret saying ‘half’—that was wrong.” (Note this leaves open the possibility that the actual proportion is either less or more than half.)

Her media supporters, whom we don’t care to dignify by quoting or linking them, then proceeded as if it’s all just a quibble over numbers. Now that she has acknowledged the number of “deplorables” does not equal exactly 50% of Trump supporters, the argument goes, there is nothing wrong with what she said.

But there is something very wrong with it. Apart from “half,” she stands behind every word she said on Friday, including these: “They are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

As Mollie Hemingway suggests, “They are irredeemable” is a strange thing for a professed Christian to say about anybody. Theology aside, it is a shocking thing for someone who aspires to the powers of the presidency to say about fellow Americans, even if she rightly thinks they hold deplorable views.

But according to Mrs. Clinton, “thankfully they are not America.” They are voting in an American election, which means by definition they are Americans. People beat up on Trump a while back for proposing an “ideological test” for naturalization. Here is Mrs. Clinton putting forth an ideological test for people who are already American citizens.

Assuming she makes it to the debate two weeks hence, a good question to ask her would be about the policy implications of all this. What if anything, as president, would she do about the “deplorables”?

It’s not an idle question. What was the Obama administration’s abuse of the Internal Revenue Service but an effort to deny basic rights to American citizens whose views the party in power deemed deplorable?

When we thought about that, it occurred to us that Reynolds was mistaken: In the context of the administrative state, the image of the “basket” actually is an evocative one.

Imagine a midlevel worker in some federal agency whose job is to review and sort files. On her desk sit three wire baskets. One is an inbox; each morning it is filled with a stack of folders containing personal information about known or suspected Trump supporters.

After reading the contents of each file, the worker places it in one of the other baskets, marked “Pitiables” and “Deplorables.” At the end of the workday, the folders in the former basket are refiled. The deplorables’ folders are packed up in a box and sent along to another agency for further action.

What kind of action? There are many possibilities. Some are more deplorable than others.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.