The easy response would be calling Donald Trump, a racist, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the more intriguing question is the very fact that Trump is being glorified by known-haters such as Duke, who essentially has endorsed him for US. President and gushes over him, all over his website, DavidDuke.org?
The counter-response? So, what? Surely, candidates will be endorsed by those with whom they don’t like or agree. Also, is it fair to associate a candidate with someone who shares certain beliefs and values, but who perhaps are not as extreme in their respective expressions and actions?
Probably not. Then, is it not fair to ask why would Duke be so enchanted with the New York billionaire Trump, a person who has zero in common with the New Orleans-born former KKK leader, if he didn’t approve of Trump’s message?
We can argue about those similarities and differences until the end of the 2016 election season and even beyond. For the purpose of this discussion, that’s not the issue. Instead, my focus is upon, for whatever reason--there is a strange sense of déjà vu permeating the air and in some of our—right or wrong, accurate or not. There is a feeling of “been there, done that”, a bond between the anger of the present and the frustrations of the past, that is worth exploring.
With every terror explosion in Brussels, every statement of a Republican politician feeling outraged over the latest Trump statement, every effort to silence him in some way, every delegate Trump collects towards the GOP nomination, a line connecting Trump and Duke is being drawn.
But why? Surely, Trump is not a racist, or in my mind, he is not. He is badly behaved, a pathetic self-promoter, a bully and his policies appear as firm as a wet napkin they might be drafted upon. Indeed, in my view, he is bad for America. But, he is not a racist.
So, why the Trump-Duke tag?
This has been a question floating through my mind over the past few months, and particularly so, after reading an article by Tyler Bridges published last week on Politico Magazine, entitled, “How David Duke’s (Very live) ghost haunts Donald Trump”.
On Friday, while conducting a video interview with Bridges about Louisiana legislative session, I also asked him about his controversial Politico article.
First, some background:
For those who know me, you are possibly aware that I personally spent a tremendous amount of time and effort to ensure that Duke be exposed. While others thought he had changed his stripes, I had done more than enough research to know he was a blow-dried prejudiced huckster.
Tyler Bridges, however, covered David Duke in his many attempts to run for political office during the latter part of the last century. As a result, he had written two books related to Duke, and certainly had some insight into the Duke phenomena and to some extent, the current fascination with Donald Trump.
In his article, Bridges, drew upon both the Trump and Duke experiences by writing:
As a reporter, I chronicled Duke’s political rise in Louisiana, and I decided to write his biography to explain in detail that the focus by the media and the public with his Klan past obscured his true obsession—combatting Jews who he believes are bent on using blacks and brown-skinned immigrants to undermine the white race. Of course, no one is accusing Trump of harboring such feelings.
But when I saw Trump address 10,000 people at an arena in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a month ago, it brought back memories of the earlier Duke campaigns. “Trump! Trump! Trump!” the nearly-all white crowd chanted repeatedly, many of them on their feet throughout the entire speech. I could feel his supporters’ seething anger, especially when he asked rhetorically who ought to build the wall. “Mexico!” they yelled.
As I walked out, I remarked that I hadn’t seen such fervor for a political candidate since I covered Duke 25 years earlier. Then, I heard similar chants—“Duke! Duke! Duke!”—from white men and women who stomped their feet and punched the air in an us-versus-them atmosphere. “Send them a message,” he said, and they roared with approval.
So, my having attended Trump rallies only on TV and having watched Duke close up, I myself, somewhat like Tyler Bridges, had some “flashbacks” on a similar type.
While, Bridges likewise does not believe Trump is a racist (and certainly not an anti-Semite), still, there is an aura surrounding both men, for some reason, that might not be accurately measured, but, perhaps might be somewhat explained.
Here is the transcript of the interview I did with Bridges. I started the discussion asking him about the Politico article:
SABLUDOWSKY: Politico and how..
BRIDGES: It's a familiar topic for you
SABLUDOWSKY: Yea, you'll have to talk about that..
"How David Duke very live ghost haunts Donald Trump"--so let me just give background real quick, there was nobody who kept up with the story of David Duke, when he first came on the scene--back on the scene--in the late 80s, early 90s, than you. You wrote for the Times Picayune, he basically was your beat and you wrote two books that related to him. When I saw the article, I knew right away, this is really going to be interesting and it was. So why don't you, if you don't mind and I know it's gonna be a little bit longer, take us through that
BRIDGES: Well the story really for me, the recent piece that I wrote, I went and saw Trump speak in Baton Rouge about a month ago. He filled the place and people waited over an hour in line and some waited hours in line to see him and many people stood on their feet the whole speech and Trump, just in a brilliant way, whether you like him or not, it was done in a brilliant way-- spoke to the grievances of his white audience, particularly people who are--have not graduated high school, from college and just the frustration in the sense of the globalization, technological change is leading them behind. And, as I was walking out of that speech, I thought, man--this reminds me of David Duke. I went to a lot of Duke rallies and in fact, they were rallies. The typical politician gives a speech, Duke gave rallies. And Duke, again, whether you like him or not, was a very effective spokesman for a class of voters and so, that's what led me to want to write the piece where I end up explaining for Politico magazine, why is it that Donald Trump reminds me of David Duke.
SABLUDOWSKY: So way back when you went to these rallies, and you really describe the very well, and I had gone to some of those myself and was involved at the time in trying to see if we could have somebody different
BRIDGES: You were one of the fighters against him, and the vanguard of the fight
SABLUDOWSKY: And that's when you and I met, actually, but, what was your feeling then, at that time and if you can compare that feeling to the feeling when you went to the Trump rally please?
BRIDGES: Well, in Trump and Duke and those rallies, you could just feel the anger, the sense of dispossession, of disenfranchisement and in both cases, Trump and Duke were seen as the vehicles of protest--"let's send them a message, those people in Washington, they don't care about me, they don't think about me" and Duke get it so brilliantly 25 years ago, and Trump's is doing it today.
SABLUDOWSKY: Right, now obviously, Duke's name came up a couple weeks ago and the issue was, and David Duke said, correct me if I'm wrong, but he said those people, not voting for Trump were basically traitors to the..
BRIDGES: Traitors to the white race, yeah
SABLUDOWSKY: If anybody wants to delve in this further, Buzz Feed posted a 25-minute interview, not interview, sorry, Duke on the radio show, where he talked about Trump and explains why he likes Trump. And he gets into his anti-Jewish theories--and it's really interesting particularly to listen to the tone of the Duke's voice, and you listen to that and I don't think anybody cannot come away that he fervently, fervently believes that Jews are set to try to destroy the white race.
SABLUDOWSKY: Right right
SABLUDOWSKY: And so that's what you wrote about, and so, you're not saying, equaling Duke with Trump and Trump with Duke--you're saying, that, one, they both were masterful communicators
BRIDGES: Yes, they're both basically appealing to the same audience. There's no signs that Donald Trump is anti-semetic or that he doesn't like African-Americans but the message is very very similar and there are people who believe that Trump is very intolerant towards Blacks and browns, brown- skinned people, but they both, as Duke did and Trump today--tap into the set of grievances, in the sense that-- immigrants particularly from Trump today but that was also an issue that Duke talked about for many years when he was in the Klan.
SABLUDOWSKY: I agree, I don't think Trump is a racist, but he makes statements that, where people who are opposed to him, are just scared, I think, of him, and what he might do if he's president as some of us were when Duke was running for office at the different levels even president--so the fear, I think, having experienced both, the fear and the anger, to me seems to be very very similar and the anger coming from the other side of both of those candidates seems to be very very similar. It's a very very tense time just like it was then.
BRIDGES: The interesting thing, I did not mention this in the article for Politico Magazine--someone mentioned this to me later, I had kind of forgotten this point, but there was never any violence at the Duke events. There was never any Blacks who disrupted or protested. Very different today with the Trump rallies. I remember Duke was trying to be seen as legitimate and I don't think David Duke himself is a violent person.
SABLUDOWSKY: Well this is really exciting Tyler thank you so much I really appreciate, you're doing just incredible work, I'm so glad you came back to this area to continue reporting. And, the two books that you wrote, real quickly, the David Duke book and I think you also were running writing another book-- if I'm not mistaken so want to tell us about those
BRIDGES: Well, from the coverage I did of Duke, particularly the investigative work, I turned that a book called the Rise of David Duke--published in 1994 and the other book that I wrote was called Bad Bet on the Bayou--the rise of gambling in Louisiana and the fall of Governor Edwin Edwards and that book was published in 2002 and I'm working on another book right now--the story of how John Bell Edwards pulled off his improbable victory in last year's governor's race and I'm doing that with Jeremy Alford.
SABLUDOWSKY: It's gonna to be really interesting..