Hillary Clinton's slip at a New York fundraiser has been declared by some as equal to Mitt Romney's “47 percent” catastrophe four years ago. David Goldman has predicted that we will look back on the campaign several months from now and think, “The presidential election was over the moment the word ‘deplorable’ made its run out of Hillary Clinton's unguarded mouth.”
Clinton began by saying, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’” For Goldman as for others, the word “deplorables” seems incompatible with electability. In terms of presidential politics, they may be right. The president of the United States is supposed to be president of everyone, and it's hard to imagine Ms. Clinton entering the White House convinced that one-fifth of the voting population of the country is disgusting.
But the second sentence in her denunciation may be more illuminating when it comes to the state of the culture. It goes: “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.” It isn’t a grammatical sentence, but in the present environment it doesn't have to be.
All we need is a list of labels. The “-ists” and “-phobics” do the job of sense all by themselves. They don’t need grammar, only utterance. They remind me of a two-year-old pointing at a poodle and muttering “doggie-doggie-doggie.” They have the form of doggerel. They trip off Secretary Clinton's tongue in casual, rote cadences, even down to the throwaway summation “you name it.”
So canned and promiscuous a characterization does precisely what progressives such as Mrs. Clinton claim the bigots do: generalize and demonize others to the point of dehumanization. There is no way for Ms. Clinton to override this language (in the way, for instance, Donald Trump could proclaim after his “Mexican rapist” remark, “I love the Mexican people!”). It characterizes a broad range of Americans as beyond the realm of civic recognition, now and forever.
If only people would start standing up to progressives, on camera, in the classroom, in print, and with conviction, and say, “What's with all the name-calling? At what point did we turn these cheap and easy insults into the language of debate?”
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.