4 Divisive Political Quotes That Actually Aimed to Bridge Divisions

Remember ‘deplorables’? That speech actually asked you to empathize with Trump supporters
4 Divisive Political Quotes That Actually Aimed to Bridge Divisions

Think of the most memorable political quote you’ve heard from the last few years. We’re guessing it’s not some especially inspiring line spoken by the candidate you support. It’s more likely some heinous declaration made by the candidate you hate. Maybe they said your side are villains who must be defeated. And now, you’re more eager than ever to fight, simply to defend your honor. 

But you’ve sometimes got to question the wisdom of these quotes, which fire up the candidate’s base but also spark such resistance. “Why don’t they reach across the aisle and try to attract support from everyone?” you might ask, your eyes shining with idealism. Well, that’s the funny part. Sometimes, people do just that. Only, we’re so primed to hear ourselves being attacked that we miss that sentiment and just assume we’re being insulted again. 

Hillary Clinton’s ‘Deplorables’ Comment Was About Reaching Out to Trump Supporters

On September 9, 2016, Clinton spoke at New York’s Cipriani Club for an “LBGT for Hillary Gala,” a fundraising dinner that raised $4 million. “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” she told the crowd. “They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” 

Trump voters didn’t take kindly to that remark when they later heard reports about it. It sounded like one more condescending taunt thrown down by the elites (in this case at a fundraiser literally held on Wall Street). Clinton went on to lose the election, and Trump supporters would go on to reclaim the word “deplorable” as an ironic nickname.

Deplorable T-shirt

Glen Peterson

It’s a pretty badass word, when you apply it to yourself.

But the point of Clinton’s speech wasn’t to call Trump supporters terrible and five different kinds of prejudiced. That setup, talking about one basket of supporters, was a prelude to the real point, talking about the other basket. “That other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down,” said Clinton, “the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. 

“They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. That they won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

The point was to reach out to this group. “We can’t take anyone or any place for granted,” she said. “And therefore I am asking you to volunteer for a phone bank, for a canvas — at the very least if you know anybody who’s even thinking about voting for Trump, stage an intervention! That may be one conversion therapy I endorse.”

So, she was calling some Trump supporters deplorables to say the rest are not. But also, even the part calling some deplorables wasn’t exactly serious. The full deplorable sentence was, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” 

And then she paused for laughter. The part where she lists off all the -phobics, that was her rattling off people’s previous accusations rather than levying them herself. Go watch the video — a proper transcription of that part might surround each word with mocking quotation marks.


Joshua Hoehne

A proper transcriptionist would be confused, though, because “deplorables” and “generalistic” aren’t words. 

Some people on Trump’s side are like that, she said, but the point here was that few are, they weren’t significant before Trump amplified their message and they don’t encompass his entire base. Clinton later regretted using the word “half,” and the rest of the speech’s wording implies she was placing much less than half of supporters in that category. 

The lesson here is, in general, don’t say someone’s “one of the good ones” in an attempt to connect. It rarely works. Had she not said that “deplorables” line, people the next day would instead be talking about what immediately followed her speech at that event. It was Barbra Streisand singing a Trump-themed parody of “Send in the Clowns.” 

Granted, that alone might have been enough to cost Clinton the election. 

Barack Obama’s ‘Guns and Religion’ Crack Was Sympathetic

That misunderstanding was eerily similar to a comment that popped up during the 2008 election. Obama was at a fundraiser that April in San Francisco, and he talked about working-class voters elsewhere in the country. “They get bitter,” he said. “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

gun and bible

Tony Alter

Spoken like a man who doesn’t own a single Bible concealing weaponry.

The “guns and religion” part hit harder than the rest. People’s general response wasn’t so much “how dare you accuse us of being all those things” as “how dare you characterize attachment to guns and religion as a flaw.” 

The point of this speech from Obama wasn’t really to list people’s flaws but explain their grievances. “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania,” he said, “and — like a lot of small towns in the Midwest — the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate, and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion...” 


A different candidate might have embraced “cling to guns or religion” as a campaign slogan.

The reporter who attended the private event wrestled with publishing the quote, figuring that doing so would miss the context. Later, Obama said he was sorry if he’d offended anyone with his wording, but he said the point still stood. “People feel like Washington’s not listening to them, and as a consequence, they find that they can only rely on the traditions and the things that have been important to them for generation after generation. Faith. Family. Traditions like hunting. And they get frustrated.” 

Obama’s opponent in the race leapt upon the opportunity, calling the remarks “elitist and out-of-touch” and passing out stickers labeled “I’m not bitter.” That opponent for the Democratic nomination was Hillary Clinton. Let’s hope that practice of calling out such remarks as elitist would never come back to bite her. 

People Really Reacted Strongly to Mitt Romney’s ‘Binders of Women’ for Some Reason

The 2012 election, in hindsight, was very boring and straightforward, but we found laughs where we could. During one of the debates, Romney said that people had delivered to him “binders full of women.” People quoted this bizarre line as evidence of Romney’s sexism, and it became a meme, something about women being bound or trapped. 

binders full of women memes

via govexec.com

2012 memes were awesome. We need to go back. 

Here’s the context of the line. “I had the chance to put together a cabinet, and all of the applicants seemed to be men,” said Romney. “And I went to my staff and said, ‘How come all the people for these jobs are all men?’ And they said, ‘Well, these are the people that have the qualifications,’ and I said, ‘Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified?’

“And so, we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women. I was proud of the fact that, after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.” 

The binders were not metaphorical. The Boston Globe later reported on them — they were actual three-ring binders, weighing a total of 15 pounds, filled with compiled résumés of women. Of course, those were “binders of women’s résumés,” not “binders of women,” but as gaffes go, that wording should have been pretty unremarkable. 

People could have dissected the remarks more seriously. They could have pointed out that the question he was answering was about pay equity, not representation in government, and those are two different issues. But it was more fun to mock the phrasing because that lets us make memes.

binders full of women memes

via govexec.com

We’re not joking. These memes are great. 

That’s not to say all famous Romney quotes were about him fighting for equality. Why, remember the time he said 47 percent of the country were beyond hope? He said 47 percent don’t pay income tax, will vote for Obama no matter what and believe that they are entitled to all kinds of government assistance. These are people who “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.” This quote was also said at a fundraiser, and we never would have heard this one, had a bartender not recorded it and leaked it. 

Surprisingly, even this speech — much like the deplorables one — wasn’t really about the people being insulted but about reaching out to the remainder. “What I have to do,” said Romney, after summarizing the people in the first basket, “is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not...” 

At that point, the footage ends, so we sadly never got to hear Romney’s plan for becoming likable.

The number “47” wasn’t arbitrary, incidentally, like the deplorable “half” was. That was the actual percentage of Americans at the time who didn’t pay income tax. Some might point out that those 47 percent have good reasons for not paying income tax and aren’t breaking any law, but the fact remains, if you don’t pay income tax, you have little chance of being attracted by Romney’s promise to cut income taxes. 

In fact, when people expressed anger at the quote, they didn’t dispute that part about taxes or the characterization that they think the government should give people stuff. People interviewed in the video below seem most struck by the tone of divisiveness — and by the part that says they “believe they are victims.” Note: Be careful how you phrase your objection when someone accuses you of feeling like a victim. Otherwise, you’ll be feeling like a victim over being accused of feeling like a victim, and you’ll never win.

That above reaction video, by the way, was put up by the Obama campaign. And so, the chain of each politician mocking the other’s quotes goes on. 

The Original ‘Avocado Toast’ Comment Was Satire

In October 2016, election fever was almost reaching its climax, but we still found time to fixate on one non-election quote that was circulating. Someone wrote an article saying young people could afford houses if they just stopped eating so much avocado toast. This concept etched its way into everyone’s minds, and we all remember it now — even if none of us can name exactly who said the quote, or exactly where they said it or why. 

avocado toast

Caroline Green

Or what sort of garnish they used. This matters.

The idea first came from Bernard Salt, a columnist for The Australian newspaper. This column of his was about a middle-aged person visiting a hipster café and ranting about the younger generation. Only, this column wasn’t about the actual flaws of the younger generation, no more than a Simpsons scene where Grampa Simpson says there are too many states is about geography. The column is satire, and Boomers are the target. 

The title’s “Moralisers, We Need You!” and the article’s from the point-of-view of a member of a fictional group called MAM, the Middle-Aged Moralisers. The piece mocks old moralizers like the one narrating the article, though Salt himself is from a senior generation.

The Big Tilt

Hardie Grant Grp

Obviously he’s from a senior generation. His name is “Bernard Salt.” 

The MAM member offers many complaints about hipster cafés. Such places make you sit on milk crates, he writes, which is bad because it strains the hamstrings of Boomers like us. The menus have tiny print, which must be an anti-Boomer conspiracy, since small print is so hard to read at our age. And they serve $22 avocado toast, which we can buy, but surely young people should not. If youngsters skipped those meals a couple times a week, they could afford a down payment on a house.

In truth, $22 really is an absurd price for avocado toast (even in Australian dollars), and Salt had written about that extravagance before. And yes, people would be able to save more if they spend less eating out. But the idea that a couple fewer avocado toasts a week would soon net you a down payment was absurd — which is why the quote went viral, but was also why it popped up in this satirical piece in the first place. 

Nora Kuby

“You salty, bro?”
“Yes. And so is this toast.” 

“Young people as well as middle-aged people can spend their money on whatever they like, including smashed avocados,” Salt later wrote, in a column explaining the earlier column’s joke, and he’s elsewhere shared articles about how the housing crisis is real and a supply-side issue. But mainly, as his defense, he said to just go read the earlier column to judge whether it was being serious. Some things he writes are serious, while some are not. Here is a joke article in the same paper where he says he wants to start the Centre for Fashionable Thinking (which supports anything popular). Here is one where he proposes a physics explanation for where all these pillows on his bed suddenly came from. 

In the years since 2016, you may have heard “avocado toast” namedropped by actual millionaires or TV pundits who are genuinely mocking young people. More often, though, you yourself or someone like you will bring it up sarcastically, having never thought it made sense. This is so many levels of irony deep, we can only imagine how incomprehensible it might seem to someone who missed the avocado meme the first time around. 

Bud: Ooh, so Tesla’s running out of cash right now? Boo hoo! Maybe they should try buying less avocado toast!
Lou: Wait, what? Tesla buys a lot of avocado toast?
Bud: No, I’m just referencing that thing. You know, where they say young people should stop buying avocado toast, to save money?
Lou: Who says that?
Bud: I don’t know. Some Australian I think?
Lou: Okay. And you’re saying that’s a good way to save money?
Bud: No! I’m being ironic. I’m saying it’s impossible to save money doing stuff like that.
Lou: So, you’re... sympathizing with Tesla then?
Bud: Of course not. I’ll calling out the hypocrisy. Of running out of money after chiding millennials for buying avocado toast.
Lou: Wait, Tesla was the one saying the avocado toast thing then?
Bud: I don’t know who said it, I already told you that.
Lou: How about we drop this conversation and get a bite to eat? I know just what I want. 

And they go and buy some cronuts. 

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