WASHINGTON – Donald Trump supporters may be passionate, but they’re a bit irony-challenged.
In the days since I wrote that Hillary Clinton wasn’t necessarily wrong to say that half of Trump’s supporters are racists and other “deplorables,” the response has been, well, deplorable. A sampling of the thousands of emails and social media replies:
“Please do not tell me you think we whites are just as violent, nasty, and/or Godless as the other races.”
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“You call it racism, I call it concern that in time ‘foreign’ folks will have the voting power to make the USA another Muslim state.”
Another writer informed me that “blacks are the most violent population in America,” that “blacks work the least of any race in America” and that “black women have the lowest moral standards of all women in America,” concluding: “The biggest problem for blacks is blacks.”
Many others suggested I perform an impossible sex act on myself and another sex act on male genitals, called me a “scumbag” and far worse, and suggested I eat feces. Some took the opportunity to inform me that I and my fellow Jews are “the most racist people on the Earth,” that I worship Satan, and that my children and I will be boiled in oil.
Then this simple note was sent to me: “I hope you outlive your children.”
I reprint this small sample of the nastygrams not to ruin your next meal but because the half of Trump supporters who aren’t motivated by prejudice, and the few voters who remain genuinely undecided, should be aware of the bigotry that Trump has brought into the open – and that those who vote for Trump are condoning.
This week, police shootings of African-Americans in Tulsa and Charlotte provoked more racial strife – and Trump apparently couldn’t help but stir the pot. He said he was “troubled” by the shooting of the unarmed motorist in Tulsa, and he delivered a speech that was, in the prepared text, balanced: “We all have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
But even as he tried to pull back from the flagrant and well-documented bigotry that has characterized his campaign – coziness with white supremacists, scapegoating of Latinos and Muslims, anti-Semitic imagery – Trump couldn’t resist going off script and announcing, without proof, that “if you’re not aware, drugs are a very, very big factor” in the Charlotte protests. He told a questioner in Cleveland that he would reduce violence in black communities with the “stop-and-frisk” policy that has produced discriminatory treatment of African Americans; he later said he would do that only in Chicago.
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign chair in Mahoning County in eastern Ohio resigned after she told the Guardian in a video interview that there wasn’t “any racism until Obama got elected.”
“If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault,” the official, Kathy Miller, said. “When do they take responsibility for how they live? I think it’s due time, and I think it’s good that Mr. Trump is pointing that out.”
And in Charlotte, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), an enthusiastic Trump backer who claimed he had Trump’s support in his primary, told the BBC that the Charlotte protesters “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” He apologized.
Are Pittenger and Miller and those who send vile emails representative of Trump supporters? Or are they more like the way Donald Trump Jr. describes refugees: a few bad ones in a bowl of Skittles?
That’s what I tried to answer in my column analyzing Clinton’s claim that half of Trump supporters are racist, Islamophobic and the like. I cited data from the American National Election Studies, the gold standard of public opinion research for seven decades. It showed a big recent jump in prejudicial sentiment, to the point where 62 percent of white people believe black people are either lazier or less intelligent than white people, or both. The study further finds that such people disproportionately favor Republicans. Extrapolating, you can calculate that a solid majority of Mitt Romney’s voters in 2012 were white people who thought black people lazier and/or less intelligent than white people. The proportion will likely grow for Trump.
This doesn’t mean most Trump supporters are running around wearing sheets and burning crosses. But it does indicate racist sentiment is more widespread than commonly thought. What’s truly deplorable is that Trump – unlike Romney and others who carried the Republican banner before – is encouraging the sentiment.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.