America’s Democrats can’t risk another ‘basket of deplorables’ moment

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 13, 2021

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Remember Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” moment? The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee stood at a lectern emblazoned with the inclusive message “Stronger Together” and basically let rip at a sizeable proportion of America. Half of Donald Trump’s supporters, she said, were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it”.

They were, she said, laughing, a “basket of deplorables“.

The disdain set off a firestorm two months before election day and Mrs Clinton quickly apologised, but still lost to Mr Trump. It was a teachable moment for the Democratic Party, except that it seems to have learnt nothing from the incident.

In 2021, after Terry McAuliffe’s defeat to Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race, liberal Twitter, Democratic Twitter and highly educated Twitter have been slagging off Mr Youngkin’s voters as dupes or disguised racists.

This is not the way to appeal to voters. Especially when the following points emerge from the November 2 Virginia election:

** Voters not only chose Mr Youngkin, they also picked Virginia’s first-ever black female lieutenant-governor, and its first Hispanic attorney-general. Both are Republican. It’s hardly a sign that Virginia’s voters are racist and misogynist.

** Mr Youngkin came across on the campaign trail as more balanced than a lot of frenzied anti-racism campaigners. In response to parents’ concerns about the rather extreme critique of the existing system, Mr Youngkin said: “We will teach all history, the good and the bad . . . We have an amazing history, but we also have some dark and abhorrent chapters. We must teach them all. We can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we come from.” This made a lot of sense to people. After all, as  Ed Luce, the Financial Times US national editor, recently pointed out (paywall), “there is nothing liberal about telling children their race is their most important characteristic,”. He added that in so doing, the Democrats give “Republican critics of CRT [critical race theory] the space to ‘bash the left and earn cred by merely sounding like . . . Obama ’08’,” a point made by Nate Cohn in The New York Times. Mr Luce is very clear (and I agree with him) that all of us who want to teach children the skills of critical thinking, would find it hard to disagree with Mr Youngkin’s comments on the campaign trail.

** Mr Luce also recently provided a link to what the Virginia education department is reading. Click on the link and check it out for yourself. It is a revelation. He says, correctly, that liberal Twitter may have been right in a pedantic sense that CRT is not being taught in most schools and that it “is a college-level discipline that originated with legal scholars (in a nutshell, enforcing equality of rights is not enough in a society suffering from the structural legacy of slavery”. But, most parents don’t particularly know or care about the technical definition of CRT. As Mr Luce said, parents “do know that what their children are being taught sounds a lot like it.”

Perry Bacon Jr is right to say in the Washington Post that the Republican Party “has embraced a strategy of White grievance” and is constantly “attacking how public schools teach about race and racism” with false narratives. That said, Democrats need to look at how their message is heard and the response to the Republican messaging.

** Naturally, all sensible people move away from extremes. Hence, the so-called “revenge of the pissed off suburban Mom”, which basically refers to the 13-point shift towards Republicans in 2021 compared to November 2020 among white women in Virginia’s northern suburbs.  Mr Bacon quotes University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket: “A substantial faction of the Democratic Party reliably blames any loss on the party’s commitments to diversity and civil rights.”

I’m not sure if it’s the commitments so much as how they’re pushed. If it’s faculty-lounge politics, there are undoubted challenges for the Democratic Party. So too their tendency to regard other points of view as suited only to “a basket of deplorables”.

Some might question if Twitter debate is representative of the real world. It isn’t. But liberal Twitter and Democratic Twitter do give a sense of the mindset.