De­plorable, Amer­i­can and re­deemable

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Tri­cia Bishop Tri­cia Bishop is The Sun’s deputy ed­i­to­rial page edi­tor; her col­umn runs ev­ery other Fri­day. Her email is tri­cia.bishop@balt­sun.com; Twit­ter: @tri­cia­bishop.

Colin Pow­ell’s leaked emails caused a fuss this week for stat­ing the ob­vi­ous about Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton. He’s a “na­tional dis­grace” who buoys “racist” plots, Mr. Pow­ell wrote, and ev­ery­thing she “touches, she kind of screws up with hubris.”

If his­tory is a guide, Mr. Trump likely did some­thing 10 min­utes ago to re­in­force Mr. Pow­ell’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. But Ms. Clin­ton’s lat­est haughty in­frac­tion came a week ago, when, speak­ing at a fundraiser, she put half of Mr. Trump’s sup­port­ers — mil­lions of peo­ple — into what she calls a “bas­ket of de­plorables” made up of “the racist, sex­ist, ho­mo­pho­bic, xeno­pho­bic, Is­lam­o­pho­bic, you name it.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, po­lit­i­cal pun­dits glee­fully seized upon this state­ment, which, aside from be­ing some­what true and largely ridicu­lous (why, on earth, a “bas­ket”?), has also spawned a cot­tage in­dus­try of cam­paign keep­sakes: It’s now em­bla­zoned, and for sale, on T-shirts, mugs, bumper stick­ers, posters, and, I’m sure some­where, an ac­tual bas­ket.

But this is not the state­ment Ms. Clin­ton made that day that should trou­ble you, es­pe­cially when put into the con­text of what she said af­ter­ward: that the other “bas­ket” is full of dis­en­fran­chised folks who feel let down and left out by their gov­ern­ment. “Those are peo­ple we have to un­der­stand and em­pathize with,” she said.

No, the dis­turb­ing part was when she said such de­plorables “are ir­re­deemable, but thank­fully they are not Amer­ica.”

I beg to dif­fer — on each claim. Let’s start with the lat­ter.

The im­age of Amer­ica as an op­por­tu­nityand idea-rich coun­try that al­ways cele- brates dif­fer­ence of opin­ion, cul­ture and ap­pear­ance may be the ideal, but it has rarely been the re­al­ity any­where but on cer­tain col­lege cam­puses dur­ing cer­tain brief mo­ments in time. And ev­ery­body but us seems to know it.

Re­sults re­leased this sum­mer from a Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey of 16 coun­tries in­clud­ing the U.S. show that while Amer­i­cans like to think of our­selves as tol­er­ant (65 per­cent of us say we are), most other coun­tries sur­veyed — ar­guably the more ob­jec­tive ob­servers — say we aren’t. The out­siders (which in­clude Canada, four Asia Pa­cific na­tions and 10 Euro­pean coun­tries) do see us as op­ti­mistic and hard­work­ing (and so do we), but the ma­jor­ity also con­sider us to be ar­ro­gant, and a good many see us as greedy and vi­o­lent to boot — per­haps even de­plorable.

So, while the coun­try has in­deed been great for some peo­ple some of the time, it’s never been great for all of us (see: black Amer­i­cans); nor have we been great for it. And in the cur­rent car­toon ver­sion of Amer­ica in which we’re liv­ing — where peo­ple are ar­gu­ing over whether black lives mat­ter and a racist-boost­ing re­al­ity show star could in­herit the White House from its first black commander in chief — it seems likely we won’t reach “darn good,” much less “great,” any time soon.

So yes, “the racist, sex­ist, ho­mo­pho­bic, xeno­pho­bic, Is­lam­o­pho­bic” may be de­plorable, but they are also staunchly part of the Amer­i­can land­scape. Dis­miss­ing them is ei­ther a naive or elit­ist re­sponse, falsely sug­gest­ing you can deny a prob­lem into non-ex­is­tence (al­though, to be fair, this tac­tic seems to have worked for the Clin­tons more times than it should have; see: sex scan­dal, email scan­dal, White­wa­ter scan­dal, pay-for-play scan­dal and so on).

And, whether we like to ad­mit it or not, those Amer­i­cans should be con­sid­ered re­deemable — or at least we, as good lib­er­als, have to em­brace, and work to­ward, the pos­si­bil­ity, even for David Duke. Oth­er­wise, we’re hyp­ocrites, pick­ing and choos­ing our causes based on some­thing other than shared hu­man­ity. If Democrats are too moral to send a death row in­mate to the chair, or a ju­ve­nile mur­derer to life in prison, or to al­low a crim­i­nal record to get in the way of a job in­ter­view be­cause “peo­ple can change,” then they can’t, as a party, write off mil­lions be­cause there’s a Con­fed­er­ate flag hang­ing in the fam­ily truck next to the gun rack.

The Amer­i­can op­ti­mism that 74 per­cent of us be­lieve in won’t stand for it, and the past has time and again be­lied it.

Last week was the 62nd birth­day of Ruby Bridges, who, as a 6-year-old African Amer­i­can child, was put in the ter­ri­fy­ing po­si­tion of be­ing the first to de­seg­re­gate and all-white south­ern school — on her own.

The first-grader marched into Wil­liam Frantz El­e­men­tary School in New Orleans each day past an­gry, vi­o­lent mobs of whites to an empty class­room, be­cause all the other kids had been pulled out by their par­ents. And each day, she stopped and prayed for those grown-ups act­ing like ra­bid an­i­mals: “Please God, try to for­give these peo­ple, be­cause even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they’re do­ing.”

Even she, a small, brave child, thought her tor­men­tors could be re­deemed. And even­tu­ally — through ed­u­ca­tion, ex­pe­ri­ence and em­pa­thy — some of them were.

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