Today's Trump-Related Question: Why So Much Hillary Hatred?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Hillary Clinton in Florida after her victory there this week. (Carlos Barria / Reuters)

In contrast to Donald Trump’s theme, I’ve been saying all along that America Is Already Great Again™. But his campaign is certainly making the country even greater in one specific way, which is the volume of interesting and impassioned correspondence that is coming in about the man, the era, and the implications.

I’ll keep doling these out in regular increments, combining them thematically where possible. Today’s assortment starts with a question about his most likely general-election opponent:

OK, Trump’s an outlier, but why is Hillary Clinton considered equally beyond the pale? From a reader in California who was in grade school when Hillary Clinton became First Lady:

I have noticed that the Trump supporters you quote on your blog have a common disdain for Clinton. It's almost like their support for the TV actor is linked to her at least in part.

In fact, every person I have personally spoken to who supports Sanders or one of the Republicans mentions her almost immediately when asked why they prefer their candidate of choice.

Nearly all my life (I was 10 years old in 1992) I have heard of the horrors and evils of this woman.  Yet, since I was a child and now into my mid-30s I haven't understood exactly why she is so hated.  Do you have insight?  What about this woman is so distasteful beyond basic partisanship?  She seems like the only “serious” candidate to me and if she truly is that awful I would really like to know why!

From a reader on the East Coast who actually remembers the Clinton era:

In reference to one of your letter writers you posted earlier today: Is Hillary a congenital liar and in the pocket of Wall Street?  These ideas are debatable.  She certainly is widely disliked, or has “high negatives,” as they say.

I’d be interested in your views on this topic. I, for one, am not convinced she is a liar, congenital or otherwise.  (Does your letter write who called her that disbelieve her denials about Vince Foster’s death?)  She has been under attack for a quarter century and could arguably be seen as having the defensive posture of the perennially persecuted.

What do I believe about Hillary?  Responding to all the various criticisms would take too much time, and I don’t need to do that anyway. But, I do believe she genuinely wants to make the world work better for people, and I believe she would work toward that goal as President. What led me to that conclusion? I read this article and learned about her improving the college library’s book return policy. Seemingly trivial? But, she thought it mattered. I think helping people is “in her DNA.”  (I assume the story is true as is the story in the same article on her speech at her commencement.)

And, I admit to having concerns about her judgement.  I get the long-term goal (helping people) but am often befuddled by her short-term strategy.

Similarly from Vasav Swaminathan, a University of Michigan graduate and Air Force veteran who is now in graduate school at Georgia Tech. Like the first reader, he was very young during the previous Clinton era:

I’m surprised by the number of your readers who consider voting for Hilary as unpalatable as voting for Trump.

To me, she’s a politician, who has made tough calls and done unsavory things that come from a lifetime in government. But she’s no worse than almost anyone else who’s been in the government for 20 years or more, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders since he was, until now, very much a niche candidate in a unique state.

When people talk about Benghazi but don't seem to see Iraq in the same light, I get confused. The biggest difference between the two situations is 2,495 American souls. And what other scandals does she have on her record? Whitewater amounted to very little. Her husband cheated on her. So … what?

For the record, I'’l be voting democratic in the general election.

Because life is short, I’m not even going to try to get into the question: why so many intense feelings about Hillary Clinton? (And I don’t plan to run any further back-and-forth about the meaning of the 1990s, or Whitewater, or Vince Foster, or Ken Starr, or — God save us — Benghazi.) Hearing the question is like being asked, by a non-American: Why is the GOP so upset about Obama? Where do we start? I’m just offering these notes as samples of a view contrary to some I’ve already quoted.

***

In the same email, Swaminathan went on to make a point several others have mentioned. It’s based on a previous pro-Trump note from a man who identified himself as “A Machinist,” and then criticism of the machinist’s views from a electronic engineer in the defense industry.

Unrelatedly, I also found the EE [engineer] who commented to be full of himself.

First of all, skilled machinists are pretty dang important to the modern economy, even in the world of numerically controlled machines. Those guys can read machine language as well as you read Mandarin. The difference between him and the machinist isn't necessarily brainpower—among other things, including choices they've made during their younger years, it’s opportunity.

I also recently completed my masters in engineering, and I agree it wasn’t an easy thing to do. But more than being fortunate to have brainpower, I think I was fortunate to have had a strong support structure from my family (and the GI Bill) to help me complete that degree. A lot of the troops I had the privilege to lead also lacked opportunities and were fortunate that the military gave them opportunities for a middle-class lifestyle.

To say they “lacked brainpower” is NOT accurate. But since that is the way the elites of this country have been talking about poorer people in this country, it’s less of a surprise you see Bernie and Trump doing well. Trump blends this message with white nationalism, which is what’s so scary. Bernie addresses this problem with an activist government, which parallels the Progressive Era’s answer to the 19th century Gilded Age.

Trump may be a modern Il Duce, Bernie may be a modern day William Jennings Bryan, and hopefully Hilary can be a modern Teddy Roosevelt.

Similarly on the machinist question, from a reader in the west. She writes:

Of all the Trump defenders, the one who disturbed me the most was the person who disparaged the machinist.  Machinists are highly skilled workers without whom a sophisticated and diverse economy can’t exist. [JF: Yes, this is part of what we’ve been chronicling around the country.]

We need them just as much if not more than we need people with
graduate degrees in computer and electrical engineering.  Maybe he
should explain why a skilled worker shouldn’t expect to earn a wage
that allows for a middle class life?

But it sounds like he has just gotten his graduate degree; maybe in a few years he will learn that he is just as expendable as the machinist he sneers at.  He reminds me most of the old NPR short called “Ask Dr. Science.”  The end of every segment where Dr. Science mangles some issue has him claiming “I have a master’s degree, pause, in science!”

That’s all for today.