WASHINGTON, October 17, 2016 — Hillary Clinton indignantly wondered last month why she isn’t 50 points ahead of Donald Trump. She is so clearly the superior candidate that his cockroach-like refusal to be crushed must be utterly baffling to her.
It is baffling to her supporters. After her victory in the first debate, they may have expected a huge swing in support in her direction, but Trump remained stubbornly locked to her within the margin of error of most polls. Only the bombshell video of Trump glorying in his star-powered grabbing rights pushed Clinton into a solid lead, and even now some national polls put that lead only in single digits.
Clinton’s supporters plaintively ask, how is this not a double-digit blowout? How can the voting public fail to be impressed by her résumé, her policy experience and her priorities? Trump isn’t even qualified to breath the same air.
It could be that they are blinded by privilege.
Clinton’s most vocal supporters tend to be college-educated, affluent and relatively liberal. They are sensitive to the plight of minorities and the disadvantaged, being well-versed in the theory and language of race and gender theory. They know about privilege.
The two most pernicious forms of privilege, as they see it, are white and male. White privilege is what blinds white people to the constant assaults of a white-centric police and judicial systems on the black community. White privilege is why you don’t see racism, asking instead, why can’t the black community stop looting? Why do so many blacks commit crimes? If they didn’t commit crimes, the police would leave them alone, wouldn’t they?
White privilege is why white people aren’t usually afraid when pulled over by the police. It’s why they aren’t stopped and frisked when the police are stopping and frisking. It’s why they can walk into a jewelry store and not have security guards follow a few feet behind. It’s all so normal to them that they don’t even notice the privilege, treating it as simply the normal, expected state of affairs.
Male privilege is what lets men go to parties without worrying about what’s in their drinks, and lets them walk past a construction site without hearing comments about their looks. It blinds men to the anxiety women feel walking into a dark parking lot at night, or into a bar, or past a frat house. It tells men that their experiences are the normal, expected state of affairs.
As far as that goes, we can stipulate that life is in some ways easier for white men, and that much of what they take for granted in life is not what women and black men experience. If you’re a white man, the odds are much better that your encounters with the police will be polite and professional than they will be if you’re black. You won’t get, hence won’t be sensitive to the sexual innuendo and chatter that women get every day.
Clinton’s supporters think that they understand privilege, and that they and she are more sensitive to the needs and wants of non-privileged communities. But they exist in another form of privilege that is to them like the air they breath (is that not the essence of privilege?) and that helps explain why Clinton is not 50 points ahead.
They are privileged by class.
“Why do you always worry about losing your hair? You never hear me talk about my hair.”
“That’s because you have it.”
More often what the affluent don’t talk about is money. They don’t look at prices on the menu so that they can choose the cheapest item. They don’t worry about being invited to go out with friends, wondering whether they’ll be able to afford it. They don’t worry about the cost of college, or not too much, because they know that what scholarships don’t cover, they can afford.
They don’t worry about what will happen if the car breaks down. They don’t worry about what to do with the kids after school if they have to work. They don’t sweat layoffs quite as much, being better able to find new jobs and move to new cities. They don’t worry about the lack of local supermarkets.
Hence they can look the majority of Americans who couldn’t easily come up with $400 for a car repair and say with a straight face, “the biggest problem we face is global warming.”
They can tell them that Clinton is a great candidate because she’ll choose judges who’ll overturn Citizens United.
They can sneer, “people who are worried about immigration are Skittles-eating racists.”
When Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters a “basket full of deplorables,” she sounded like she meant “a garbage can full of poor white trash.” She later apologized for the comment, but it came to her with remarkable ease. So does the assumption from the left that Trump supporters must be from the white working poor, from the rust belt, the South and Appalachia, from the ranks of the uneducated and the trailer park aristocracy.
Polls during the primaries showed that Trump’s supporters were relatively affluent, with a median household income of $72,000, well above the national median of $56,000, and above the median income for non-Hispanic whites ($62,000). The median for Clinton and Sanders supporters was $61,000. Trump’s voters were also relatively well educated, 44 percent holding college degrees versus 33 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 29 percent overall.
Sarah Smarsh observes in the Guardian, “The two-fold myth about the white working class—that they are to blame for Trump’s rise, and that those among them who support him for the worst reasons exemplify the rest—takes flight on the wings of moral superiority affluent Americans often pin upon themselves.
“I have never seen them flap so insistently as in today’s election commentary, where notions of poor whiteness and poor character are routinely conflated.”
That conflation has created a blindness among white liberals, who often seem to believe as strongly that they represent their class as that the uneducated rural white represents Trump voters and that Islamist terrorists don’t represent Islam. But if they hold a mirror to their class, they may well see Trump staring back at them.
According to a December, 2015 YouGov poll, most Americans dislike Islam. That includes 45 percent of Democrats, who are voting strongly for Clinton. A third of Democrats agreed with Trump last spring that the U.S. should impose a moratorium on immigration by Muslims.
Abby Norman asks, “Look, if you support Donald Trump, I can’t be sure that you’re not a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobe. So it’s safer to just assume, for now, that you’re all like that — see what I’m saying?” Indeed we do. If you support Hillary Clinton, we can’t be sure you’re not a racist, sexist, homophobic Islamophobe. It is only out of a sense of generosity and fairness that we avoid making that generalization.
Clinton’s supporters look at Trump’s through lenses of class and privilege, unwilling to believe that those people can be among them and convinced that, as Smarsh puts it, poor character correlates with poor whiteness. The only possible excuse for supporting Trump in that view is bigotry.
If they don’t remove those blinders, Clinton and her supporters will find it difficult to build bridges to the rest of the country when she wins, as she almost certainly will. Clinton touts as one of her qualifications her ability to work across the aisle, but it is very difficult to cross that aisle when you’ve dismissed large swaths of the country as white trash.
Let us give the penultimate word here to Smarsh:
If you would stereotype a group of people by presuming to guess their politics or deeming them inferior to yourself—say, the ones who worked third shift on a Boeing floor while others flew to Mexico during spring break; the ones who mopped a McDonald’s bathroom while others argued about the minimum wage on Twitter; the ones who cleaned out their lockers at a defunct Pabst factory while others drank craft beer at trendy bars; the ones who came back from the Middle East in caskets while others wrote op-eds about foreign policy—then consider that you might have more in common with Trump than you would like to admit.
Clinton and her supporters assume that the rest of the country—the non-Trumpist part of it—shares their priorities, and that those who don’t fall into a particular class. They are blind to their own privilege, and blind to their own class. It’s time for them to come back to the real world and take a good, hard look at the America that they intend to lead.