What’s really “deplorable”

Vital Speeches seems like a quaint publication, until you understand the still-relevant reason it was founded in the first place.

Hillary Clinton may have gone about it clumsily and even somewhat oafishly, but she was trying to say she understood the point of view of many of the people who support a candidate that she finds reprehensible. Read the whole quote:

You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of these folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket–and I know this because I see friends from all over America here—I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas–as well as, you know, New York and California—but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

Was she a little rough on the racist, the sexist, the homophobic, the zenophobic and the Islamaphobic? Did she overestimate their share of Donald Trump's followers? Should she not have put a whole group of people in a rhetorical "basket"? Perhaps.

But the reason she's getting hammered for her remark about the "basket of deplorables" is the very reason that Vital Speeches was founded in 1934 by founder Thomas Daly, who believed a large part of the nation's problems was the purposeful editing of leaders' speeches to distort the message they were trying to send. That's why Daly declared back then that “it is only in the unedited and unexpurgated speech that the view of the speaker is truly communicated to the reader.”

And to think, Twitter wasn't even invented until 1939.

This is why Vital Speeches still prints speeches in full and without commentary today. This is why Vital Speeches still exists today. Not that we expect American citizens to read "deplorable" on Facebook and go running to this website to read the speech stem to stern. But future generations of scholars, when they research this bizarre political campaign and every well-argued side of any issue, will be able—and thus obligated—to read the whole speech, and see exactly what Clinton meant by "basket of deplorables," and what was the whole message she was trying to convey. They may conclude she's an impossibly arrogant elitist. After reading the whole speech, they'll have that right. But not until.

Here's what a speech is, friends—and what a speech will always be: A speech is, everybody sits down and shuts up while one person talks. A speech is not just a series of standalone declarations (unless it's structured that way, in which case it's a crap speech). No, a speech is a whole argument, or a series of arguments usually much longer than a single phrase inside a single sentence. And when an audience member is asked what a speech was about, the audience member (or media member) should not say, "Aw, Clinton just called Trump supporters a basket of deplorables."

Because Clinton, in this case, and so many politicians in so many cases, "just" did not do any such thing. Any more than Mitt Romney "just" declared that he had "binders full of women."

Alas, soundbite-snatching is human.

Reading Vital Speeches is divine. —DM

Leave a Reply