Leftist PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley welcomed 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis into his Los Angeles studio for Monday night’s show. Dukakis is hanging out as a guest professor at UCLA. Smiley wanted to bang on the GOP: “What did Republicans do or not do that made the ground so fertile in this year for a Trump type candidacy? How did this happen?”
“I think it’s the politics of anger,” Dukakis replied. “I think it’s stoking the worst instincts in people.” Smiley thumped Trump as “racist and sexist and xenophobic” and whacked the Republicans for liking that:
SMILEY: But anger is nothing necessarily new. It certainly ebbs and flows in the American electorate. And there is anger from time to time on both sides of the political aisle, as you well know. I guess what I’m asking is, even when the electorate’s been angry, that doesn’t necessarily, to my mind, mean that you see the success, if I have to call it that, of a candidate who is racist and sexist and xenophobic. I mean, what allows for that kind of person to do this well where the Republican Party now has to stay up all hours of the night trying to figure out how to stop him?
DUKAKIS: Well, remember. He’s running from one party only. That’s a relatively small percentage of the total electorate.
SMILEY: I take that. I take your point.
DUKAKIS: If you’re getting 30 percent, 35 percent of the Republican vote, you’re getting what? Maybe 15 percent, 20 percent of the national vote. Too bad, but we’ve got people who still are into the race thing, still angry about the fact that opportunity for women and for lots of other marginalized people seem to be greater these days.
Smiley asked briefly about the press coverage: “What’s your assessment of the way the media has treated, not treated, covered, not covered – don’t want to frame your answer. But just give me your sense of the media’s relationship and its coverage of Donald Trump.”
Dukakis replied: “Well, they’re obviously into him. He attracts them because of what he says. Frankly, I think he’s running against a relatively weak field. I mean, Cruz is worse. So it’s not as if there’s great Republican competition out there. And I think the media these days somehow is attracted to this kind of stuff. They love a fight and he gives you a fight. I mean, the other day, he took a whack at Elizabeth Warren. I mean, how can you whack Elizabeth Warren? I mean, she’s one of the nicest prestigious people I know, and I think a really impressive member of the United States Senate. But he’s a whacker. Well, my newspapers in the Boston area today are loaded with the fact that Trump took a shot at Elizabeth Warren.”
Smiley also asked “How much trouble is Donald Trump going to be in when the Democrats–my sense is they’re salivating for this. But there is going to come a moment when he’s going to have to release those tax returns. I don’t see how you go from here to the White House without being forced to do that. How much trouble do you sense he’s in when that chest box gets opened?” Dukakis would only say “Look, I think he’s in big trouble generally, providing my party runs the kind of campaign that, to some extent, we haven’t.”
Smiley was mystified as Dukakis talked about the politics of anger among whites. Why on Earth would white males to be angry in America?
SMILEY: When you say that white males have a right to be angry, I guess you have a right to be happy or sad. It’s your choice. You have agency to control whatever emotion or express whatever emotion you want. So they have a right to be angry, but what do they have to be angry about in America, white males?
DUKAKIS: Their real incomes have gone down over the course of the past 25 years.
SMILEY: They ain’t the only ones [laughs].
The PBS host went back to repeat that Trump was racist, sexist, and xenophobic, in case someone was tuning in late on the conversation about angry white men:
SMILEY: I’ll move on. I don’t know that I agree with you, respectfully, that they feel it the most. I don’t know that they feel it any worse than other segments of our society. But for whatever reason—we do agree. We agree on this, but we don’t celebrate this. For whatever reason, they are turning to a candidate who is racist or certainly racial and xenophobic and sexist, et cetera, et cetera. So I guess what I’m getting at is how it is, in your mind, that that group of working class white males who are not doing as well as they want to do or thought they would do economically, how then does a reckless billionaire end up becoming their candidate?
DUKAKIS: Well, I’m not sure he’s going to be their candidate when it’s all over.
SMILEY: Well, he’s their choice right now. That’s what I mean by their candidate.
You don't have to be a leftist like Smiley to find it odd that working-class voters identify most with the billionaire "populist" with the gilded three-floor apartment at the top of the Trump Tower.