When Hillary Clinton called out half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” to the point where some are “irredeemable,” I shook my head at her elitism even as I was surprised by her lack of political acumen. Her comment lumping these “deplorables” into a “basket” came at a fundraiser on September 9th, even as her podium touted the message “stronger together.” As I wrote in a Facebook post on September 10th, “Painting half your opponent’s supporters as [potentially] irredeemable is just bad strategy.”
But it’s worse than that. First off, Hillary should have known better. After all, she went aggressively after Barack Obama when in 2008 he made his comment about bitter rural folk clinging to guns and religion. (And Obama’s comment is considerably milder than Hillary’s.) By calling out Obama for his comment, Hillary was able to win that year’s primary in Pennsylvania. Second, for a seasoned pol Hillary showed a surprising lack of discipline. She herself prefaced her remarks with the phrase, “to just be grossly generalistic.” Grossly generalistic? That’s supposed to be Trump’s sphere, not Hillary’s.
But third and finally is that word, “irredeemable.” Having been raised Catholic and having studied evangelicalism and American religion, that word instantly caught my attention. For Christians, to suggest that someone is “irredeemable” is in itself deplorable. It’s as if you’re limiting the agency of God. God determines who is redeemable and who isn’t. No sinner, i.e. human, has the probity or power to do so.
All Christians know the story of the thief on the cross next to Christ as He was crucified. Christ chose to redeem that man, saying to him that “today, you will be with me in paradise.” As I type these words, an old hymn plays in my mind: “Christ, Jesus, victor. Christ, Jesus, ruler. Christ, Jesus, Lord and Redeemer.” For God, no one is “irredeemable,” nor should any person make such claims, for God’s ways are past searching out.
Mark Shields on PBS put this exceptionally well this past Friday night:
You don’t [use that word, irredeemable] — America is built on redemption. People came here because things weren’t working out.
My generation, the old, oldest fart generation, OK, 13 percent of us were in favor of same-sex marriage 15 years ago, now 41 percent. On civil rights, America has changed dramatically and profoundly. We believe in redemption, not just because you’re a liberal, because you’re an American.
And that — when you write off people and blame the customer, that is really bad.
To this, David Brooks at PBS added the following:
[The word] irredeemable is what leapt out at me.
And the person who was at the Emanuel Baptist — AME Church in Charleston, they believe the guy who shot and killed their close friends was redeemable, but she thinks millions of Americans aren’t?
And that speaks and I think it plays, because there is a brittleness there. And I don’t know if there is a brittleness within. I sort of doubt it. I think she’s probably a very good person within. But there has been a brittleness to her public persona that has been ungenerous and ungracious. And it plays a little to that and why people just don’t want to latch on [to her campaign].
If Hillary loses the election in November, it may very well come back to her “grossly generalistic” comments on September 9th, when she anointed herself as the judge of who is redeemable and who isn’t.