Deplorable: Reflections on Campaigns, Culture, and Compassion

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

Since Hillary Clinton made her “basket of deplorables” comment calling out the racist, bigoted, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic following in the Trump campaign, there has been seemingly no end to calling things in that campaign and in media coverage deplorable.

The truth is this needed to be said. The unprecedented level of hate and fear in Trump’s own rhetoric and among much of his supporters needs to be called out at every instance. This rhetoric and ideology has no place in today’s presidential politics and must be repudiated repeatedly, lest it become normalized, as it is becoming in much of the media. Sarah Jones in her writing continues to be an exemplary example of how this is done daily. See here, here, and here.

However, there is another half to Hillary Clinton’s comment. Her call for empathy for the people who feel forgotten, left behind, disillusioned, and frustrated with the status quo. This basket has gotten little to no attention, and yet it is where our collective societal attention needs to be.

Instead for the past week we have been treated to endless coverage of our presidential candidates’ health and health records. Hillary Clinton was pummeled for not disclosing her pneumonia diagnosis for two days, and there was much speculation about her health as she took a few days to rest and recover. Meanwhile, Donald Trump treated the country to another bait and switch stunt with an appearance on the Dr. Oz Show to discuss his medical records. All the while the country waits for Congress to fund Zika virus research and treatment before it reaches epidemic proportions.

Trump’s rhetoric is reprehensible. His repeated calls for violence against Hillary Clinton inexcusable. The media’s repeated false equivalence, misogyny, and double standards a failure of duty. All unequivocally deplorable.

Nonetheless, the following story caught my attention last Monday. David Smith of The Guardian writes, “Teenagers in America are resorting to sex work because they cannot afford food, according to a study that suggests widespread hunger in the world’s wealthiest country.” This is heartbreakingly deplorable.

How can anyone’s conscience be content not only while children are hungry, but when they feel compelled resort to sex work to obtain food. I can scarcely imagine such a reality and grieve its existence.

It is for these and so many more that as a civil and humane society we must have compassion. And we must act from that compassion towards ending these deplorable realities.

While all the people in Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” need to be called out for their ideology of hate and discrimination, the people in her other basket deserve our empathy.

This is especially hard to do when it is all too easy to get caught up in the media hype of polling numbers and distortions and distractions in campaign coverage. Nevertheless, as Sarah Jones continues to counsel, we must not panic for when we do we lose the ability to think carefully and critically. Keeping calm and focused in the midst of all the deplorable behaviors of these days is imperative if we are to overcome them and not simply add to the noise in an already alarming environment.

I believe that it is finally through compassion and empathy for the suffering vulnerable ones that all the hate and fear will be overcome as we encounter our diversity of neighbors as human beings worthy of dignity and respect. Working together for the common good of all people we will build bridges where difference divides and our eyes will be opened to new understandings.

If we fail in this call to empathy and compassion for our neighbors in need that will be the greatest moral failing of all. And there is only one word to describe this: deplorable.