Since Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump clinched their respective nominations, one of the most pernicious emergent narratives has been that this presidential election is pitting two historically unpopular candidates against each other. The narrative implies that they are equally unpopular, and for the same reasons. This could not be further from the truth.
On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd led a discussion with guests Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Republican Senator Bob Corker, about Hillary and Donald being “polarizing.”
When Booker made it plain that a false equivalency was being drawn between the two candidates, noting that Donald has engaged in “gratuitously demeaning women, demeaning Muslims, demeaning Latinos at a time where our country needs reconciliation” and “callously stoking hate and fear and inflaming divide,” Todd insisted that Hillary “is almost as polarizing and as divisive.”
This media narrative is so manifestly objectionable that the editorial board of the Washington Post penned a piece straightforwardly addressing the false equivalence: “Both are unpopular. Only one is a threat.” After noting that Hillary “is not a dumpster candidate,” they observe:
Mr. Trump, by contrast, has waged a campaign based on bigotry, ignorance and resentment. … Just in recent days, Mr. Trump tweeted out an anti-Semitic image circulating on neo-Nazi websites and attacked the media for reporting as much. … He praised one of the most vile dictators of the 20th century. … [He] mocked a disabled reporter, proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, attacked a judge based on his ethnicity, celebrated violence at his rallies, demeaned women and promised to round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. [He] vaulted to political prominence with race-based attacks on the incumbent president and launched his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists.
This false equivalency is something we have called out a number of times at BNR. My colleague Peter Daou made the case on CNN. And I recently wrote: “Further, as we have previously pointed out in this space—and will no doubt be obliged to keep pointing out—Trump has a high unfavorable rating because of what kind of person he is and the things he has actually done, while Hillary’s high unfavorables are largely a function of nearly three decades of persistent negative media narratives with their roots in both classism and misogyny.”
Despite efforts to conceal them, there are demonstrably meaningful differences in who has an unfavorable view of which candidate—and why.
Here, for example, are the demographic groups where Hillary’s favorability ratings are above 50 percent, as reported by Gallup on May 27:
And here are the demographic groups where Donald’s favorability ratings are above 50 percent:
No, that is not a mistake. There is literally not a single one of all 62 of Gallup’s demographic categories in which Donald is above 50 percent favorability—not even white men 50 and over.
Just in sheer numbers, the disparities between Hillary’s favorables and unfavorables are fundamentally different. But the context of those numbers is critically important, too: She is liked by a majority of the very same groups who are consistently under attack by Donald, his surrogates, and his supporters.
Donald is disliked, in large part, because he is a bigot and a bully. And Hillary is disliked, in some part, because she refuses to alienate the same marginalized people that Donald targets. In a March article in the New York Times about white male voters who don’t favor Hillary, white men expressed their concerns that she was spending too much time talking to and about people who aren’t white men.
One man said plainly: “She’s talking to minorities now, not really to white people, and that’s a mistake.” Another said: “If I’m a woman, I probably vote for Hillary. If I’m Hispanic, I vote for Hillary. Blacks will vote for Hillary. But white people, especially white men—she has a big problem there.” A third complained: “I really wonder if she wants people like me in the Democratic Party.”
The modern Republican Party didn’t invent the identity-based divisions in this country, but they have ruthlessly exploited them, fomenting profound resentments against marginalized people—resentments which Donald has now made the centerpiece of his campaign.
Hillary, on the other hand, has spent her campaign talking about what she is going to do to help the marginalized people harmed by these resentments and the institutional systems of oppression that have been erected to safeguard privilege. “Breaking down barriers” is central to her message. Opportunities, access, justice for people who are denied these things.
I cannot put this any more plainly: Donald is polarizing because he traffics in bigotry. Hillary is polarizing because she advocates eradicating it.
And, of course, because she has herself been subjected to decades of public personal attacks on the basis of her identity. To conflate Hillary’s unpopularity with Donald’s while casually eliding her womanhood is deceptive in the extreme.
We still live in a culture where being a woman matters. A lot. Even in spite of the absurd rhetorical pretzels into which people will twist themselves trying to argue their criticisms have nothing to do with her gender.
What a ludicrous contention on its face that her being a woman has nothing to do with why she is “divisive,” when her candidacy is history-making because there’s never before been a woman in her position.
Her supporters, however, are not fooled by any of this claptrap. We see her capacity to unify—Bernie’s supporters are unifying behind her at a remarkable pace—and we see her dedication to addressing the concerns and amplifying the voices of marginalized people, even when it’s unpopular with the privileged people driving the national conversation.
The question of whether any candidate has the capacity to unite the country is the wrong one to ask. No candidate in our deeply partisan country has the singular capacity to unite us all. The question is whether any candidate is running a campaign that seeks to unite people.
Clearly, Hillary is doing that—and Donald emphatically isn’t. If people refuse to unite behind Hillary because unity requires centering people who have been left out, that isn’t her fault.
If social progress were popular, we wouldn’t need social progress in the first place. Resistance is what necessitates champions.
Hillary is a champion. Donald is an exploiter of the very divisions she seeks to remove.
They aren’t unpopular, or divisive, or polarizing, or whatever variation, because they are the same. To the absolute contrary, they are both “unliked” for reasons of their inherent difference.