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I was tempted to say that Colbert King’s Washington Post column today – which tarred as race-baiting Donald Trump’s attacks on not only current U.S. immigration policy but trade policy as well – marked a new low in Establishment Media elitism and plutocracy coddling. Then I remembered that both the mainstream press and the broader Beltway political class have been using these underhanded tactics literally for decades.

According to King, when it comes to trade and immigration, in this year’s presidential campaign, Trump is using the formula employed by former Ku Klux Klan member, racist, and anti-Semite David Duke when he ran for Louisiana governor in 1991 – wooing “economically discontented and politically alienated white voters by playing to their fears and resentments.”

King rightly reminds that Duke – who has endorsed Trump’s presidential candidacy – is an unapologetic bigot. But he pointedly included in his attack on Duke’s success in appealing to voters who were “frustrated, insecure, angry and ready to blame someone” popular concerns over predatory Japanese trade policies and “massive immigration.” And he just as pointedly observed that these themes “echo today” in the rhetoric of the current Republican front-runner.

Sadly, he’s just the latest in a long line of U.S. leaders and Beltway scolds who have made lucrative careers working to ostracize any reservations about globalist trade and immigration policies that have enriched and empowered one percent-ers at the expense of the nation’s working and middle classes.

I first encountered these tactics in the early 1990s, while working at the Economic Strategy Institute. This think tank sought to challenge the free trade absolutism that then reigned virtually unchallenged in American policy circles. In the process, it tried to focus particular attention on Japanese economic successes that strongly indicated that a brand of capitalism differing significantly from the U.S. version could achieve impressive results and create major problems for American industries, their workers, and the country’s overall economic vitality.

An all-too-common response from the establishment pundits of the day, along with prominent think tanks created expressly to uphold conventional wisdom, was to brand the Institute as a “Japan-basher,” whose arguments were fueled by prejudice. Nor were the perpetrators shy about leveling these charges.

According to the late prominent American diplomat Richard Holbrooke – writing in no less than foreign policy establishment house organ Foreign Affairs in an effort to lower then-elevated U.S.-Japan tensions – “there may still be an underlying racism, not always conscious, in the attitudes of some Americans toward Japanese.” And the late Washington Post economics Hobart Rowen had no compunction in making this point to Members of Congress critical of Japan’s protectionism.  (Both these points are made in this Rowen column.)   

Immigration-boosting zealots in establishment ranks have committed the same intellectual crimes – and years before Donald Trump became a leading political figure. For example, when the Senate passed an immigration bill containing a path to legalization, The New York Times moaned, “It is hard to understand what — besides election-year pandering and xenophobic hostility — motivates [the House of Representative’s] unwillingness” to approve the measure. That was in 2006.

Commenting on the immigration policy environment, a junior Senator from Illinois charged, “A certain segment has basically been feeding a kind of xenophobia. There’s a reason why hate crimes against Hispanic people doubled last year. If you have people like Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh ginning things up, it’s not surprising that would happen.” That was Barack Obama, and the year was 2008.

House [Democratic] Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has stated, “I think race has something to do with them not bringing up the immigration bill. I’ve heard them say to the Irish, ‘If it was just you, it would be easy.’” That remark came in 2014. And if you Google the right search terms, you’ll see that these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s no doubt that there’s entirely too much anger in American politics today, and that Trump is responsible for much of it. But many of his opponents are in no position to single out Trump’s contribution. As King’s column make clear, their ranks include smear merchants, too. And their paper trail long predates the current campaign.

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