Eight months ago in this space, a Donald Trump-James A. Traficant Jr. comparison was made under the headline, “Trump’s outrage familiar.”
Here are the opening paragraphs of that column:
“Twenty-eight years ago, this writer followed a loudmouth, profane, self-assured, flamboyant candidate for president to New Hampshire to hear him rail against illegal immigrants, China’s unfair trade practices, this nation’s ridiculous tax code and Congress being up for sale to the highest bidder.
“The candidate sported such a bad hairdo that he turned the look into a self-deprecating opening line for his stump speech: ‘I cut my hair with a weed whacker.’
“His populist message struck a chord with some voters in the state that has the first-in-the-nation presidential primary election.”
The candidate was Jimbo Traficant, and his audiences were mostly angry white men, especially blue-collar workers.
Today, angry white men, especially blue-collar workers, are fueling New York billionaire The Donald’s surprising, unconventional campaign for president. In the Mahoning Valley, those supporters would be known as Traficant Democrats.
Then, as now, they look at Trump and see their hero, the late Mr. Traficant, former 17th District congressman, Mahoning County sheriff and federal jail bird.
Traficant burst onto the political scene in 1980 in the midst of the collapse of the steel industry in the Mahoning Valley. He recognized the anger raging through the ranks of the steelworkers – most of them white males – and immediately became their pied piper.
In his run for Mahoning County sheriff, he realized that home foreclosures were becoming a major problem for many of those who had lost their jobs. He made it clear he would not obey court orders requiring him, as the county’s chief law- enforcement officer, to serve homeowners with foreclosure papers.
Traficant kept his word when he was elected – he won by taking on the Democratic Party establishment – and made national news when he defied a judge’s order on foreclosures.
He became the symbol of the angry white man, in particular, and the middle class in general.
Traficant used that popularity – and his defeat of the U.S. Justice Department in a criminal trial during his tenure as sheriff – to launch a surprising, unconventional campaign for Congress.
Like Donald Trump, Jim Traficant instinctively knew what buttons to push to garner the support for his congressional bid.
And here’s where the Trump and Traficant political roads intersect:
Trump, the real estate tycoon who is leading the race for the Republican nomination for president, has promised to build a huge wall along the border to keep out illegal immigrants – and have the Mexican government pay for it. His critics say the wall may be built, but he will never get the Mexicans to foot the bill.
Traficant, the son of a truck driver and a steadfast Democrat when he first ran for Congress, promised to seal the border with thousands of American troops to stem the flow of illegal drugs, in particular, and to deal with illegal immigration.
Here’s what he said on July 17, 1998, from the floor of the House of Representatives:
“Mr. Speaker, the Drug Czar opposes it, the White House opposes it, Immigration opposes it, the Pentagon opposes it. They all oppose the Traficant program that authorizes but not mandates the use of troops to straighten out our border. But they also have some interesting company. The Colombian drug cartel is now reported opposing it. The Mexican drug lords oppose it and fear it. The Golden Triangle heroin bosses for the first time are worried about getting heroin into America.
“The unusual thing about this program is, the only support I have is a number of members of Congress and the American people, in growing numbers.
“Mr. Speaker, the White House will not get it until there is a six-foot syringe full of heroin shoved up the asset of some bureaucrat at the White House.
“Beam me up.
“What about our children? What about addiction? How many years do we lament the use of narcotics, and we allow it to come across our border? Only one of every three trucks are searched. I say on the House floor today, a nuclear warhead could cross our border and we would not know it.
“I yield back any common sense left in the government of our country.”
Troops were never deployed to seal the border.
America’s trade deficit
Trump has decried the increasing trade deficit and the federal government’s failure to deal with it. He has made it clear that as president he will ensure there’s a level playing field and all countries follow the rules.
Likewise, Traficant talked about the trade deficit many years ago.
Here’s what he said:
“Mr. Speaker, America had a $15.7 billion record deficit in May. Billion. The formula says for every $1 billion in deficits, America loses 20,000 jobs. So in May, check the formula, America lost 314,000 jobs. These are not burger flippers or chicken skinners. These are manufacturing jobs, folks. It is getting so bad China today has a 34 percent tariff on most American products. After all this, the White House by whatever name you want to call it once again wants most-favored-nation trade status for China. Unbelievable.
“Who are the trade advisers at the White House, a bunch of proctologists, ladies and gentlemen? This is out of hand. Think about it. While Congress is debating campaign finance reform that was promulgated because of illegal Chinese contributions, the Chinese keep kicking our assets all the way to the bank.
“Beam me up.
“We need a proctologist.”
Traficant served in Congress from January 1985 to July 2002, when he was expelled. He was sent to federal prison in September and was released in September 2009. He died on
Sept. 27, 2014.
While Traficant said all the things his angry white male supporters wanted to hear, he had limited success in getting a lot of his policies enacted. The reality of Washington is quite different from the reality of the campaign trail.
Thus, when Traficant Democrats in the Valley rush to join the Donald Trump campaign, the question they should be asking themselves is this: Are we being blinded by another political demagogue?