Nearly everything wrong with politics today is distilled in the person of Dick Morris. By politics I don't mean the assertion of competing ideas in the public sphere. I mean the business of politics, the nasty constellation of pollsters and consultants and marketing hacks. These are the mercenaries working behind the scenes, carving up the country one demographic at a time.
Dick Morris is the most egregious of this species.
For the unfamiliar, Morris was the mastermind of racial politics in the '80s and '90s. He was hired by the Clintons – to their everlasting shame – to help Bill navigate the murky waters of race in the South during his bid for re-election in 1994. And this was after Morris earned a bit of fame for his 1988 race-baiting ad for the doddering bigot Jesse Helms.
Worried about his polling among white men, Bill Clinton solicited the services of Morris. The result was a sly shift to the right. Most notably, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was born, giving us the “three-strikes” laws and a sprawling system of racialized mass incarceration. The crime bill polled well among white men, to the delight of Team Clinton. And Bill won his second term thanks, in part, to the Morris-inspired talking points.
Morris's tendrils extend far beyond Helms and Clinton, but the point is obvious enough.
Sadly, in addition to his “consulting” work, Morris is also a contributing writer at The Hill. His weekly scribblings are mostly forgettable, but yesterday's was remarkable. His thesis: Trump is winning because white men are righteously revolting. Morris writes:
“This year's gender gap is different from all previous gaps in that it has its origin in male, rather than female, dissent from the conventional wisdom. The feminist staples of abortion, reproductive rights and equal pay continue to motivate female voters. But men are voting differently than women because of their dissatisfaction with job and wage competition from illegal immigrants, the threat of refugee-driven terrorism, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the unending wage stagnation...Men are in revolt.”
Morris would have you believe that all the attention paid to the xenophobic rhetoric on the right is misguided. It's the lazy “mainstream media” that “insist on painting the white male fear of competition from illegal immigrants as racist, denying its legitimacy.” Never mind that net migration from Mexico has dropped consistently since 2010, or that many of the jobs secured by legal and naturalized foreign-born workers (who Morris cites as part of the problem) are filling technical jobs for which blue collar American workers are unqualified, or that globalization is responsible for the economic displacement of the working class.
Morris continues: “The media insists on calling these concerns about immigration and trade racial or jingoistic, denying the reality that they are the central concerns of the white men who are animating the Trump triumph.” This is the trope that won't die. There are plenty of white people concerned about immigration and trade who find Trump's ethno-nationalism repulsive. What distinguishes Trump is his sectarian rhetoric about building a wall in order to fend off Mexican rapists. This is the dog-whistling his supporters are responding to, and there's no point in denying that. Does anyone think a wall on the southern border will magically stunt the march of globalization? The wall is a symbol - and nothing besides.
The white men supporting Trump are no more concerned about free trade than the Tea Partiers were worried about big government. The explosion of government was unprecedented under George W. Bush, and yet it wasn't until the day after Obama was elected that suddenly we reached a precipice. Similarly, what's happened with trade and the loss of manufacturing jobs was decades in the making. If that's what it's all about, why weren't these people protesting the neoliberal schemes of Republicans and Democrats 30 years ago? The Mexicans didn't ship their jobs oversees, American corporations did. If it was purely about economic populism, nearly every Trumpite would be voting for Bernie Sanders, who's been fighting this fight for 40 years. Indeed, it's because so many Trump supporters are blinkered by bigotry that they remain blind to the real authors of their pain.
So white working men aren't righteously revolting against illegal immigration or free trade. That may be part of the calculus, but it doesn't explain the Trump phenomenon. This is about Trump shamelessly exploiting the cultural angst of white men for political gain. He's giving white men a brown boogeyman onto which they can project their discontent. And it's working.
Morris, of all people, should be thrilled about that.