Hillary Clinton was right: The parts of America that support Trump are stuck in the past

Clinton has an amazing knack for speaking truth at the wrong time. But does it actually help Democrats to lie?

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published March 15, 2018 5:00AM (EDT)

 (AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Drew Angerer/Salon)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Drew Angerer/Salon)

Hillary Clinton has a problem. She tells impolitic truths at inopportune times. During the 2016 presidential campaign she described a large subset of Donald Trump's supporters as being "a basket of deplorables." She was correct. Donald Trump is an authoritarian petit-fascist who is also racist, ignorant, greedy and corrupt. He may be a traitor in cahoots with Russia and is certainly a misogynist and serial liar who brags about sexually assaulting women. Anyone who would vote for such a person is in fact deplorable. Moreover, anyone who continues to support Donald Trump after witnessing his behavior as president is deplorable in the extreme.

Over the weekend while at a conference in India, Clinton let slip another truth about Trump's voters and the 2016 presidential election. Democrats, she said, "do not do well with white men, and we don’t do well with married white women. And part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should."

She continued by saying that "all that red in the middle" of the nation, where Trump and the Republicans tend to dominate, was deceptive because "what the map doesn't show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward." Trump's campaign, she said, "was looking backwards" by playing to white voters who "didn't like black people getting rights" or women leaving the home and getting jobs.

Republicans attacked Clinton's latest comments, of course, as an example of how the Democrats are supposedly "isolated," "elitist" and "out of touch." Some of her fellow Democrats piled on with complaints that Clinton is being "unhelpful" by "re-litigating" the 2016 presidential election instead of looking to the future.

These voices of protest have provided little if any evidence to disprove Hillary Clinton's central thesis. Why? Because the facts are on her side.

Political scientists and others have repeatedly shown that women often demur to their husbands' political decisions. This dynamic is especially pronounced among white conservatives and other authoritarians (such as evangelical Christians) who believe in "traditional" family arrangements -- i.e., in which women and children are supposed to obey their husbands and fathers.

There is also a consistent partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans: In public opinion polls and other research, the latter are shown to be hostile to women's equality as a lived practice (rather than as a vague ideal).

The Republican Party has enacted a range of policies to prevent African-Americans from voting. The Republican Party's voters support those initiatives. In addition, according to a 2016 poll by YouGov, at least 20 percent of Trump supporters believe that African-Americans should still be slaves. More than three-quarters of Republicans also express sympathy for the Confederacy, a white supremacist breakaway republic that waged a bloody and treasonous war in defense of the "right" to keep black people in chains.

Those parts of the United States that largely support Democrats tend to be more prosperous, economically dynamic, better educated, healthier and more cosmopolitan than those parts of the country that vote for Republicans. In fact, red-state America is in an economically parasitic relationship with more liberal and more Democratic areas of the country.

One can still endorse Hillary Clinton's truth-telling while demanding that she should be more precise in her observations.

There are some complicating factors. Donald Trump won every demographic subgroup of white voters. The racism and authoritarianism that put him in the White House are not isolated to the Rust Belt, the South or some other caricature of "white working class" America. In fact, those voters who expressed concerns about the economy were more likely to vote for Clinton than Trump.

It should not be overlooked that Clinton and her team made strategic and tactical errors by paying little attention to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the states that gave Trump the White House.

Most important, there are many liberals, progressives and other members of the Democratic Party's constituency (nonwhites, gays and lesbians and younger voters) who live in red-state America. They should be embraced and mobilized, rather than being marginalized because of geography.

The Republican Party is a masterful machine of deception. For at least the last 50 years its leaders and media have consistently lied to the American people about almost every issue, including the economy, the environment, international relations, civil rights, crime and health care. This strategy created the poisoned swamp from which Donald Trump and his proto-fascist movement emerged.

The question now becomes whether the Democratic Party will tell the American people the truth in order to win back power, or rely instead on reassuring lies? It is a provocative question. Fighting fire with fire sometimes works. The trick is not to be burned alive in the conflagration.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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