The Deplorables: The Moment Clinton Lost, And The Lesson The Left Must Learn


From on high, Hillary Clinton dubbed Trump supporters racists. And it was all downhill from there, writes Mike Fewster.

Okay, I didn’t expect Clinton to lose but there was one campaign moment when I froze. In the biggest possible way, she made the mistake that the left makes over and over again.

In political debate are you speaking to your supporters or are you trying to win over the opposition? The first is good for the ego. You stand up to the bastards and you tell ‘em. Your supporters cheer and you feel good.

Or do you think about where your opponents are coming from and how you can win them over?

Years ago, I developed and ran programs in secondary schools to work with students on racism. The core point of programs was recognizing that for many students, the subject was initially too emotionally loaded for rational discussion.

Fiji at that time was the perfect starting point. Students knew nothing about Indian/Fijian history and race relations so they could look dispassionately at that country. They could see that issues were real and also how genuine economic and personal insecurities on both sides all too easily resulted in racial stereotyping rather than addressing the issues. It was also apparent that some community leaders could play on the fears for their own ambitions

Armed with this framework, students would then move to examine their own patch. The framework gave some understanding of the pressures that different community groups might be feeling. It helped bring out the common concerns that all the groups might be sharing.

The cardinal rules. Never, ever try to make students feel guilty for the racist views they might have. Never ever say that you think those views are racist. By and large people have real insecurities. The key to persuading is to recognise and acknowledge those insecurities and then work on addressing them.

Unsuccesful US presidential candidate, Hillary CLinton, at a midnight rally in North Carolina the night before the election. (IMAGE: jalexartis, Flickr)
Unsuccesful US presidential candidate, Hillary CLinton, at a midnight rally in North Carolina the night before the election. (IMAGE: jalexartis, Flickr)

When Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “deplorables” she blew it big time. In one moment of madness, she confirmed that she was a professional politician with apparent contempt for those the left thought they represented. They lived the problems. She didn’t. They noticed.

Occupying the high moral ground isn’t sufficient. The left has to be able to show and convince that the policies of the high moral ground work.

Take immigration again. If you live in an area with high unemployment and housing pressures, it’s a bit rich to listen to the left pollies’ and academics’ support for refugee resettlement on humanitarian grounds when you know it is your suburbs where these refugees are likely to be settled. Those well-known phrases for the out of touch – “elites” and “chardonnay sippers” – can be thrown with justification.

The “elite” right and the monoculturally fixated have a much easier sell. Whipping up fear of other cultures is a time honoured strategy and best of all, it requires little expenditure.

I’m not saying that refugee resettlement can’t/shouldn’t be done, just that there needs to be well thought through plans on how it is to be done, and those plans have to be developed with the knowledge and confidence of the settlement location communities right from the start.

That’s an expensive operation and a difficult sell, especially in times of high unemployment. The costs of not doing it this way, of just taking the high moral ground for granted, will be even higher.

In all the gloom there may be a ray of hope. Maybe. And I’ll concede that this may be a pretty desperate straw at which to clutch.

The period of the Vietnam war was the most pro-left period I recall. It wasn’t just the protest marches. In schools and universities, political discussion and formal political science courses were the flavour of the day. Parties and family gatherings could be opinion hot spots. Popular music and culture were nearly as likely to have a political message as to tell of unrequited love.

With the end of the war and the end of military conscription, we all seemed to melt back to civilian life. The MBA replaced Marxist studies. Perhaps we need a level of personal threat to fire up political commitment and serious political strategic thinking?

On Wednesday afternoon as the unthinkable became reality on television screens, I was sitting in the lounge of a large tourist destination filled with Canadians and Americans.

Unusually, Canadians were gathered on one side of the room and Americans were on the other. The Americans nearly came to blows with each other. Apart from at actual political meetings, I haven’t seen that level of political debate and intensity in a general public gathering since the 1970s.

Perhaps we take democracy too much for granted. Perhaps it needs the jolt of a Trump before the community gives political analysis the attention it deserves.

Mike Fewster is an Adelaide based writer and specialises in education issues.