In the 2016 campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was criticized for…well, everything, but in particular for her remarks that half of Donald Trump’s voters could be thrown into the “basket of deplorables” for their racism and misogyny. She wasn’t wrong – look at this video from The New York Times of some of the horrible things they said at Trump rallies for proof. Still, the media blew this incident out of proportion, setting back her candidacy at a critical juncture.
Since her loss, Clinton has spoken out about her experience on the campaign trail, even writing a book about it, What Happened. Although many wish she would go away or take up knitting, she has not backed down. Yesterday, while visiting Mumbai on a trip to India, she talked about it again:
“I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s GDP. So, I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward, and his whole campaign, ‘Make America Great Again,’ was looking backwards… ‘you didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women getting jobs, you don’t want to see that Indian-American succeeding more…whatever your problem is, I’m gonna solve it.’ So, it was a symptom, but it was also a cause, because having someone run for president who voices those ideas, who rejects so much of the American story and our values, was also the underlying cause as well.”
Pundits on both the left and right joined in the pile-on. The Weekly Standard wrote that her remarks “reminded Americans why she lost.” Business Insider’s Josh Barro and Vox’s Matt Yglesias were also on hand to throw in some snark:
However, the facts are on Clinton’s side here, and pundits reluctant to engage with her do a grave disservice to the electorate by dismissing her as a sore loser who won’t stop whining. Let’s break them down one at a time.
First, according to the Brookings Institute, although she only won 472 counties, they represented 64% of America’s GDP. She took every major city in the country with the exceptions of Fort Worth, Phoenix, and parts of Long Island. By contrast, although Donald Trump won 2,584 counties, they only accounted for 36% of the GDP. The Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley called this divide “unprecedented in the era of modern economic statistics.”
Second, while it’s easy to complain that Clinton lost only because she didn’t campaign in the three Rust Belt states that decided the election (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania) her losses there are not solely her fault. Yes, Trump did Wisconsin more than she; but he also visited Colorado more, and she won that state. And while Michigan and Wisconsin did grow redder this year, the same is true of several states where neither of them campaigned, like Missouri and Indiana. A lot of this, especially in Wisconsin, has to do with voter suppression laws that discriminated against people of color and allowed whites without college degrees to control the outcomes in this region of the country.
And thirdly, the, for lack of a better word, deplorable attitudes of these voters cannot go overlooked either. In What Happened, Clinton writes about “racial priming,” the theory that white voters tend to become more conservative when they view the world through the black/white divide. There can be no doubt that the dog whistles embedded in Trump’s challenges to Barack Obama’s legitimacy, as well as the ways he and his stooges portrayed Hillary Clinton in their speeches, were heard loud and clear by his voters. It wasn’t just that he told them they’d win so much they’d get sick of winning; it was that if he won, they might still lose, but women and people of color will lose harder. Ta-Nehisi Coates summarizes his voters’ attitudes in the introduction to his compilation of essays, We Were Eight Years in Power:
“The symbolic power of Barack Obama’s presidency – that whiteness was no longer strong enough to prevent peons from taking up residence in the castle – assaulted the most deeply rooted notions of white supremacy and instilled fear in its adherents and beneficiaries. And it was that fear that gave the symbols Donald Trump deployed – the symbols of racism – enough potency to make him president.”
As the only woman to ever run for and lose the presidency in this country, her experience is something no other American has ever gone through. We must listen to her not only if we want to prevent tyrants like Trump from winning again, but so that the next woman who runs will not have to face the same adversity.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.