Protecting Vulnerable Communities

I’d like to share with you a few lines from political writers and a comment I heard last night from a local pollster. Then I would like to push them around on my plate for a little while, like green beans I am not yet ready to commit to eating.

If I don’t like where they wind up, I might just shove them under the mashed potatoes, the way I used to. If you don’t like where they wind up, you can shove them anywhere you like. What could be more fair than that?

I got this recently from Jeremy Bird, who runs a sort of activation network for President Obama.

If you’re anything like me, you’re still sorting through the events of the past week and a half. It’s hard — there’s no way to sugarcoat that. Vulnerable communities are feeling like this country has turned its back on them.

That sounds right to me. On the other hand, I have been reading messages just like this from Obama’s organization for so long that maybe it just sounds familiar.

But his expression “vulnerable communities” lit up for me on this reading because I had just read Frank Bruni in the New York Times. Bruni said.

From the presidential race on down, Democrats adopted a strategy of inclusiveness that excluded a hefty share of Americans and consigned many to a “basket of deplorables” who aren’t all deplorable. Some are hurt. Some are confused.

The Democratic party, according to Bruni, has ignored a lot of vulnerable communities, particularly poor white working class communities. That sounds right to me too.

Bruni points to many in these working class communities who are “hurt” and “confused.” They are also poor and, to a great extent, without hope. And sexist and racist.

vulnerable-2So if I am the Democratic party, trying to lodge Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office, these communities present a problem for me. If I say that “poor” is the part of their life I want to bring into focus, I face the difficulty that there is nothing I can do about it. The jobs that once made them solidly middle class are gone and they are not coming back.

If I say that “sexist and racist” is the part I want to focus on, I am solidifying my hold on some very important other voting blocs—feminist women and men and LGBTQs. No one says these “vulnerable communities” are hurt or confused. They are just victims.

So of these two kinds of “vulnerable communities”—vulnerable in different ways, granted—we declare one to be victims and offer our support and the other to be victimizers and offer only blame. I would think that strategy would be very popular among the victims and deeply resented among the people who are called victimizers.

There might be a short way to say this. As a Democrat, I care deeply about the welfare of my vulnerable communities, but not very much about the welfare of yours.

vulnerable-1Add to this collection of thoughts the remarks of Tim Hibbitts, a widely respected local pollster. In reflecting on all the white working class votes that Bill Clinton had won and that Barack Obama had won, but that Hillary Clinton lost, he remembered that Hillary had gone to coal country in West Virginia and told the miners and former miners that coal was gone and wasn’t coming back. She was right, said Hibbitts, about the coal jobs. But saying it there to them made her seem callous.

That caught my attention. Tim didn’t say anything else about coal, but my mind went on and imagined that Trump had visited the same setting and had promised to bring coal production and use back to full strength. And then I thought how that would make him seem to these vulnerable “coal communities.”

If he did that, it was all flim-flam, like so much else he has done. But people don’t know for sure about the future of coal. [1] Maybe they don’t care much about long term economic projections. But they know how to care that one of the candidates seemed not to care about them and the other seemed to care a great deal.

vulnerable-3I began by talking about “vulnerable communities.” These are communities of several kinds. Then I added the notion that whether a candidate seemed to care about me—about the particular way I am vulnerable. Hillary, in telling them the truth about coal, told them also that she didn’t care about them. Trump, in lying to them about coal, told them also that he did care about them. A sophisticated electorate would have chosen the teller of truth over the liar.

My father used to tell a story that seems to have stayed with me. He imagined a boy who said about his mother, “The old lady don’t bitch like she used to.” Then a boy who said, “My mother doesn’t complain as much as she once did.” [2] “Each boy, “my father would say, “is conveying the same information about the mother. He is conveying very different information about himself.”

This is a hard place for Democrats to be. No one wants to say “my vulnerable communities but not yours.” Not out loud, at least. And it is a hard thing to ask of a voter. You have to say that the problem is poverty and I have no idea how to help you. Or you can say you are terrible people, being both sexist and racist, and I am going to try to protect the people you are abusing.

It has been awhile since I have run a political campaign and as I look at this dilemma, I am glad I don’t have to design a campaign or find a candidate to solve it.

[1] If you go to, you will see amazing possibilities. I have no idea whether they would work, but I am confident they will not be tried.
[2] Note: Dad had four sons and no daughters and he cared a great deal about the social setting of language.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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