Whatever Hillary Clinton meant when she said that half of Donald Trump’s supporters could be consigned to a “basket of deplorables,” everyone agreed the comment was, at best, maladroit. Four years ago Mitt Romney attempted to campaign with the unusual strategy of insulting a sizable fraction of the electorate to a room full of wealthy donors, and we know how well things turned out for him. Of all the gaffes in all the world, why’d it have to be this one?1
Even so, many on the left, including here at The Nation, noted that if her comment was wrong in any factual sense, it was only in its exaggeration of the percentage of Trump’s supporters that are, as Clinton put it, “irredeemable”—and even then, they said, she was not off by much. That being the case, perhaps Democrats should decide once and for all to call off all efforts to win over The Donald’s supporters, and instead focus on maintaining and expanding Barack Obama’s political base—people of color, the educated, and the young. But, came the rejoinder, what kind of vision of the national future does that provide?2
After circling around and around this question, we decided to submit it to the consideration of six writers on the left. Their responses are below.
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The New Not-Silent Majority
Democrats absolutely should not waste time and resources over the next four weeks trying to get the votes of Trump supporters. After the election, however, they absolutely should seek their support for a policy agenda that addresses the profound wealth inequality plaguing our nation.6
Organizing, mobilizing, and investing in the New American Majority should be the primary political imperative of progressives across the country. Obama’s election and reelection proved that there is a New American Majority consisting of progressive people of color and progressive whites. Together, those constituencies comprise more than 51 percent of all eligible voters. There are 7.5 million more eligible voters of color today than there were in 2012. And 25 million eligible people of color didn’t vote in 2012. Together, these voters of color far eclipse the small number of potential convertible Trump voters.7
Political campaigns are zero-sum games involving the strategic allocation of two scarce resources: time and money. Mobilizing the New American Majority is labor and resource-intensive, so we should not be diverting any resources away from that imperative. Helping members of the New American Majority clear the myriad hurdles to voting requires more attention and resources, not less. For example, people of color are, on the whole, poorer than whites (the average black or Latino family has just one-tenth the assets of the average white family) and face more barriers to civic participation, such as the costs of childcare and transportation, and ability to get time off from work.8