Mitt Romney sank his 2012 campaign by speaking the truth: that 47 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax, were dependent on government programs and therefore unlikely to support his call for lower taxes.
This boilerplate statement of an obvious truth generated weeks of relentless coverage from Democratic operatives with bylines, who used it to “otherize” Romney as an un-American snob.
Four years later, Hillary Clinton smeared half of Donald Trump’s supporters with false statements fueled by venomous ignorance. At a fundraiser (of course) she separated Trump’s supporters into two baskets. On one side of her chilling ledger is the “basket of deplorables.” These American citizens are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.” They are, she added, “irredeemable.”
That’s not very Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or even atheistic.
Let that sink in. Ponder what policies she might pursue toward them as president – or toward the large number of “irredeemable” Democrats who also hold “deplorable” views.
She didn’t label the other “basket” but helpless losers captures her views of the lost souls who support Trump because they no longer want to “see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end.”
Put aside the larger question of why so many Americans, not just Republicans, but African-Americans marching in the streets of Charlotte and other cities feel so hopeless after seven years of Obama’s presidency. Put aside the question of how her continuation of his policies could possibly turn things around.
Consider instead what these comments say about how Clinton views the people she wants to lead.
Trump has been pilloried by the press for presenting a dark vision of America. In fact, he is simply sounding the call for change trumpeted by every challenger. And, simply as a matter of rhetoric, he holds out the promise – however questionable – that our problems can be fixed through new policies.
Clinton, by contrast, is not condemning the state of our laws, but our souls. And, if Trump’s comments about some illegal immigrants and Syrian refugees were beyond the pale, how do we describe Clinton’s harsh dismissal of so many Americans? Has any other major candidate for the presidency shown such contempt?
Even more troubling – if that’s possible – is that she is not an outlier. She is echoing, for example, the views of prominent religious leaders and academics in North Carolina who routinely describe Republicans as evil racists intent on reimposing Jim Crow.
Her views are echoed by journalists who blithely compare Gov. Pat McCrory to George Wallace and Trump to Hitler.
With shocking brazenness and profound cognitive dissonance, these same people – who slice and dice the electorate into ethnic and racial categories – then claim that Trump and the Republicans are divisive.
When I look around, I don’t see Hillary’s America. I do not see, as she now claims, a 50/50 race between love and hate.
I see a nation that has struggled to dismantle the barriers that have prevented every citizen from enjoying the blessings of liberty. We are not there yet. But, as President Obama has repeatedly said, we have made tremendous strides during the last half century. To pretend otherwise is to spew poison for partisan advantage.
I see a nation of flawed human beings in a world ever riven by tribalism that has tried and succeeded better than most to create an inclusive society.
I see our largely peaceful debates about contentious issues as a sharp rebuke to the religious and ethnic violence and anger roiling Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
America is not defined by hate.
We have many pressing problems including a soaring national debt, an economy that has not adjusted to changes wrought by globalism and technology, and poor leadership at almost every level of government.
For all of our challenges, we remain an exceptional land of redemption. We remain the nation others dream of coming to for hope and acceptance. We do not greet them with jackbooted thugs. We offer them opportunity.
As we have been since our founding, Americans are an imperfect people in an imperfect world. We are a good people who hold fast to the idea that we are a shining city on a hill and humanity’s best hope.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.