The difference between ‘prejudiced’ and ‘deplorable’

Trump rally in New Hampshire
Trump supporters at rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, December 28, 2015. Photo: Marc Nozell

J.D. Vance, a very hot writer these days with his timely memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” writes in Thursday’s New York Times why he thinks Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remark was out of line: Because polls show that most everyone, not just Trump voters, have some sort of prejudice toward one group and/or other, and though the prejudice is terrible, it shouldn’t brand them as “social outcasts.”

“In that basket is the black preacher who may view homosexuality as a little icky even as he lovingly ministers to struggling gay members of his church. The adoptive parent of a child born in Asia, who pours her heart and soul into her child’s well-being even as she tells a pollster that she doesn’t much care about America’s experience with Japanese internment. And in that basket is a white grandmother who speaks ill of black people even as she gives her beloved African-American grandson the emotional support and love that enable him to become the president of all Americans.”

Yes, we all have our prejudices, and that does not make us all deplorable. But we are not all prejudiced to the same degree, and the difference in quantity can and does become so great among people that it turns into a difference in quality. Some people are prejudiced in a way that’s recessive and basically harmless, others in a way that’s malignant, such that it’s entirely fair to call them deplorable as people.

And I’d say one indication of whether a person is garden-variety, routinely prejudiced or, on the other hand, poisoned with it, is whether he supports Trump. (While it’s not true, as Hillary pointed out, that all of Trump’s voters are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it,” I would say that about 90% of the “you name its” who are voting in this election are voting Trump.)

It’s one thing to say America needs to reduce the number of illegal immigrants coming in from Mexico and Latin America, or to more closely vet the refugees and immigrants from the Muslim Middle East. Believing such things (as I do) does not make you a racist, nativist or Islamophobe.

But when a candidate only speaks of Latinos and Muslims as rapists, murderers, terrorists, leeches, aliens, as nothing but a collective menace, and shouts it with maximum fury and malevolence – if you are one of the people in the crowd baying in response, you are fucking well deplorable. You’re not one of the “about 90 percent of us [who] possess some implicit prejudices,” according to J.D. Vance’s data-based estimate. No, you’re one of the roughly 20 percent of Americans (extrapolating from Hillary’s reference to “half” of Trump’s supporters) who are out-and-out bigots.

And even if you haven’t been to any of Trump’s rallies, if you support him knowing (as you damn well do by now) his views toward Muslims, Latinos, women, blacks and the handicapped, and your socioeconomic situation is good enough so you’re not clinging to him out of personal desperation (and desperate people probably make up a smaller portion of Trump’s electorate than the “half” suggested by Hillary; see links below) – then on the slim chance that you are not an out-and-out bigot yourself, you are raising one up to take over America, which is enough to make you deplorable.

No apologies, Hillary. No defending the indefensibles, J.D.


Further reading:

“When it comes to baskets, we’re all deplorable,” J.D. Vance, NY Times, September 22, 2016.

“Voices from Donald Trump’s rallies, uncensored,” NY Times, August 3, 2016.

“Clinton expresses regret for saying ‘half’ of Trump’s supporters are ‘deplorables,” CNN, September 12, 2016.

“The mythology of Trump’s ‘working class’ support,” Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight, May 3, 2016.

“Typical Trump voter earns above average income, study finds,” NBC News, August 13, 2016.


Published by

Larry Derfner

I was born in New York in 1951, grew up mainly in Los Angeles, began my career in journalism in 1981, and moved to Israel in 1985. I live in Modi’in with my wife Philippa and sons Alon and Gilad.

7 thoughts on “The difference between ‘prejudiced’ and ‘deplorable’”

  1. I agree that we all have conscious biases (leaving aside for now the unconscious prejudices we also possess).
    For me, the key is recognizing that we are afflicted in this way and trying to understand their origins.
    And then doing our very best to recognize them when they pop up in life and to not let them determine how we act toward others.
    In short, to make the effort required to overcome them.

    1. Definitely. There’s a movie with Kevin Costner, he plays a white guy who adopts a black girl but at one point he gets into it with her father and calls him – not out of meanness, but to jolt him awake – a “nigger,” and the father uses it against him in the court fight, and Costner’s character says that he regrets calling him that, it was completely out of character for him, as evidenced by his adoption of the girl, and then says (quoting from memory), “That was my first thought. But what’s more important is my second thought, and my third, and my fourth.”

  2. What J. D. Vance may be saying is that people do not like to write off their relatives and friends, even just neighbors. By using categorical wording which requires either irreversibility or a public mea culpa, a decision is forced with many either walking away or actively defending their associates, so too then seeing the need to defend Trump. Such categorization wasn’t good politics for Romney and it isn’t for Hilary either.

    If you want to really do such categorization, consider the Great Leap Forward in China. A medium estimate is 30 million dead through that policy. Think of all the possible condemnations, at all levels of government and decision–indeed, even a generation later. Sometimes it is not a matter of justice but endurance. One needs at times to step back from such structural polarization.

    In the far less important case of Trump, focus on the behavior, not dead end, unescapable categorizations. One of the primary thesis of the black Civil Rights movement was exactly that–refuse, condemn behavior, but not the person absolutely. I think if the Clinton campaign publically pressed your view it would add to Trump turn out. Further, upon a Hilary victory, past indicators predict a poor Democratic showing in 2018. A public strategy along the lines you suggest would make it purely–publically–hypocritical to argue the President is for “all of the people,” really a meaningless phrase anyway. Nonetheless, such a stand would make 2018 worse, for those so slated are I think more likely to turn out than the young who just blow off the midterms because there is neither adequate hero or villain.

    Bottom line, a public stand as you suggest may motivate party faithful, but both immediate and long term motivates those you would rather not vote. It is public acceptance of a great divide of clashes until only one remains standing.

    1. I wasn’t arguing so much on what’s politically wise or not, more on principle, which is what Vance was arguing: that these people aren’t deplorable despite their views, because their views are shared by just about everyone, and I was saying no. But re politics, I’m not so sure that Hillary apologizing is the smart thing. And she hasn’t apologized for the essence of her statement, only for the estimate of “half” – if she were to say, “Maybe I was wrong about half, maybe it’s less or more, but I wasn’t wrong that extreme social phobias are deplorable, and that’s what Trump is preaching and what his hard core supporters are endorsing, and that’s the truth, everybody knows it, and Trump can lie about it but I won’t.” It would piss off his hard core of course, but maybe slap his soft supporters awake. Shame them with the truth. I’m not sure it wouldn’t be helpful.

      1. You phrased Hilary’s imagined reply as a behavior, not character state. A “social phobia” is not the essence of a person. To say a social phobia is “deplorable” is not to say that there is a set of deplorable people (as “basket of deplorables”). “Basket” was her core mistake. The way out of the bind is to do what you suggest, focus on behavior not person and say she was referring to attitudes in the basket, not people as such, which even Ted Cruz would have to accept as core Christian logic.

        I would think Vance holds that these “deplorables” as traits are a matter of degree, and that we mostly all have them to some extent. This view is again core Christian and one way Christians bridge the gap of salvation when converting others. “I have sinned, do sin, just as you.” As a general tactic, it is open ended and so does not threaten exclusion up front to anyone (among Christians it does after denying the Holy Spirit, although that too can be redress through contrition). What Vance is saying is “look, I know the people you are talking about. They are never going to go away and you are creating a solid wall against them in their lives. You are making more and re-enforcing them with your attitude.” There will be some as you suggest. The question is how and when you make that call. I suggest that moving from person to trait allows one to kick the ball down the road, which is really how much of politics actually works.

        1. Yeah, “basket” was pretty dismissive of them as people, but again, in this case I think it’s fair. We’re talking about extreme phobics – I can tell you that Jews dismiss extreme anti-Semites as people, blacks dismiss extreme white racists as people, etc. Can you expect anything different? And all this Christian salvation and tolerance – if they want to repent, they’re forgiven. From what I’ve read, George Wallace made a pretty convincing repentance toward the end of his life, and black voters forgave him. The blacks in S. Africa forgave the whites. But first they have to apologize sincerely. Trump’s hardcore haven’t exactly done that.

          1. I’ve thought more about your view here, Larry. I think there is a difference between a specific person and a category. While I suspect many blacks during civil rights knew of some whites they would never forgive, nonetheless the principle of focusing on the behavior rather than person was fundamental to the movement and really was the only way to reconcile, for one is fighting for a future, not against a person. There were undoubtedly many small “Truth and Reconciliation” moments in the South; but change in law was given priority over demand for contrition. George Wallace is an unusual case; he was paralyzed by an assassination attempt which lead to his change–a change which again placed him in the limelight as he used to be. BTW, I do not think Christians hold the behavior/person distinction all that well overall, but it is there and is essential for conversion experiences as opposed to family upbringing in the faith.

            If I lived, as you, in a country spiraling against the values I hold dear. after moving to that land in hope, I think I might hold your view, or at least struggle inside over it. Gideon Livy today says “it’s all over, no one will stop us, not really, they just want to feel good in verbal condemnation or admonishment” (paraphrasing). The Israeli national right will never conform to my view of contrition, nor will hard Trump people. In a sense, they have to be ignored. One is fighting over the audience watching you (me) and such confront one another. There comes a point where this distinction fails, as in the Nazi rise; not so long into the Chancellorship it was (post game) clear the Nazis wanted to close down any track leading to power loss. Is the US there? No. A Trump win will shift the fight to the courts where I can see Chief Justice Roberts balking. Yes, one can speculate about replacements. I just think Trump would/will be shocked over his tangle with law.

            This is a matter of tactics. I believe open ended is better than closed door. I guess in Nazi Germany or Rwanda or Pol Pot the distinction is untenable. But not here, now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *