Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.
Donald Trump’s policy ideas have proven to be pretty fluid: the billionaire business man says wages are too high, and then too low. He says that America’s allies are being bullied by the Obama administration, but that he would bully them more. But one of Trump’s talking points has remained consistent, and it may be the true engine of his campaign: racism.
Jorge Ramos, the Mexican journalist who was kicked out of a Trump press conference back in August, pointed out in a Tweet that Trump has recently stepped up his attacks against Hispanics, going after four prominent Hispanic figures in the course of just a week.
The latest wave of aggression started in New Mexico, with Republican governor Susana Martinez. After she failed to endorse this candidacy, Trump accused Martinez of doing a poor job, citing the “large numbers” of Syrian refugees set to resettle in the state — a lie. Martinez is the country’s first Latina governor, the state’s first female governor, and chairwoman of the Republican governors Association.
As the Republican Party’s highest-profile Latina, she would be an ideal presence to help Trump make amends with women and Hispanics, the two groups he enjoys belittling the most. But Trump can’t miss a chance to reinforce his platform as the candidate who will Make America White Again, even if it means missing a chance to really have a shot at the presidency.
Then came the press conference Trump held on Tuesday to address claims that he had skimped on donating all $6 million he had promised to veterans groups. Trump went after the media as a whole but chose to focus on two reporters who, you guessed it, happen to be Hispanic.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, a Cuban American, was called a “real beauty,” and Tom Llamas, a Mexican American, was called a “sleaze.”
“You’re a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well,” Trump said to Llamas after the reporter pointed out the discrepancies between Trump’s statements on how much money he had really raised for veterans.
Just like Trump used Acosta and Llamas to divert from the actual point of the press conference (what ever happened to the money he supposedly raised for veterans?), he went after Judge Gonzalo Curiel to distract from the fact that Trump University — or, legally, “Trump U.” — has been exposed as a complete scam. In statements that provide a scary glimpse into how a Trump administration would deal with judicial independence, Trump blamed Judge Curiel for his bad luck with the two class-action lawsuits against Trump University he’s currently facing.
“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater,” he said at a rally in San Diego, before adding that he believed Curiel was “Mexican.” It didn’t stop there, he then added that the Judge’s handling of the case is a “disgrace” and that it would be “wild” if he came back in November to do a civil case as president.
It should come as no surprise that Trump is going after successful, prominent Latinos. The generalization that all immigrants are “rapists and murders” set the tone for his presidential run and is the basis for the narrative that the Trump machine is pushing. Hispanic American governors, journalists, and federal judges don’t fit that image.
What does fit that image are cases of undocumented immigrants committing murder — even though undocumented immigrants don’t commit crimes at higher rates than legal residents of the United States. Trump rallies often start with the families of victims killed by undocumented immigrants standing on stage, holding up posters with pictures of their deceased loved ones. Jamiel Shaw, who has been onstage at Trump’s rallies and even appeared in one if his campaign ads, summarizes one of the main arguments of Trump supporters: “We demand Americans first,” Shaw said. “We don’t care about illegal aliens. Americans first. First means first.”
Trump’s campaign is kept alive by the hateful enthusiasm of his core supporters’ racism. They might not agree with him on policy issues like his support of Planned Parenthood, taxes, or universal health care, but hey, he hates immigrants and has run on building an ever-taller border wall.
It’s no secret that Trump is unpopular among Hispanics. A Gallup poll released in March showed that he was the most unpopular of any remaining candidate, at the time, with Hispanic voters, with more than three quarters viewing him unfavorably. Hispanics are the fastest-growing faction in the electorate, and proved to be an important part of Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss. Romney earned just 27 percent of their vote, significantly less than President George W. Bush, who earned 40 percent just eight years before. The flight of Hispanic votes from the Republican Party prompted GOP leaders to reach out to them, releasing a 100-page “moratorium” report on how they would rebrand themselves to get the vote of minorities.
And Hispanics have even more political weight now. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 27.3 million eligible Hispanic voters today — a 17 percent increase in eligible Hispanic voters since 2012. The Hispanic vote has been key in the last two presidential elections, helping Obama win swing states with large numbers of Hispanic voters like Florida and Colorado.
Yet the 2016 presumptive Republican nominee is running not only an anti-immigration campaign, but one in which personal attacks against Hispanics have become the norm. Other than quotes like “I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs,” Trump has done nothing to mend bridges with the nation’s largest ethnic minority.
This has not come without consequences to the Republican Party. Ruth Guerra, the head of Hispanic media relations at the Republican National Committee, resigned her post this Wednesday. According to reports, she resigned because she was “uncomfortable working for Mr. Trump.” A month before Guerra’s resignation, NBC News reported that Kristal Quarker-Hartsfield, the RNC’s Director of African American and the highest-ranking African American in the RNC, had resigned. A few weeks before that, Orlando Watson, Director of Communications of Black Media, also resigned.
But Trump can’t change his anti-Hispanic rhetoric because it is what has kept his campaign alive despite the policy blunders, insults to women, and overall obvious ignorance about the country’s main issues. He has offered a scapegoat to be blamed for everything that’s wrong with America: Hispanics. If he takes that off the table, he alone will remain on it, and a millionaire reality star with weak policy knowledge and reprehensible morals just isn’t as attractive.
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Sacramento, California, U.S. June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
It’s all just an act.
That’s what Donald Trump’s new, more professional staff — led by former war crimes advocate and old H.W. Bush/Dole convention delegate wrangler Paul Manafort — wants GOP insiders to know about the buffoonery of the billion-dollar baby they’re about to nominate to be president.
“When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” Manafort told a recent Republican National Committee meeting.
Trump himself has vowed to become so presidential that he will bore you to tears when the time is right. If you trust the polls, the right time was about five years ago.
Trump’s favorability among Latino voters is at 9 percent, according to a recent Latino Decisions poll. Mitt Romney won close to 30 percent of the Latino vote — a lower number than John McCain, and he did even worse with the fastest growing group of new voters than George W. Bush.
Trump has made scapegoating Mexican immigrants his signature issue, and central to that the construction of a giant, impossible, mostly useless slab of concrete; a physical metaphor for his implicit promise to restore aging white Americans’ perceived dominance over ethnic minorities.
The fantasy that we’re bound to get a “new Trump” is endlessly appealing to the press, who look at general election polling numbers that show him being crushed by either Democratic frontrunner and fear a sudden ratings drop-off. The notion that Trump can whitewash away the bigotry that has defined his candidacy by starting fresh this summer is just a continuation of the premise that Trump’s appeal is based broadly on the economic concerns of a working class that feels left out in this new economy.
Reporters eagerly seek out the anomaly of a black businessman at a Trump rally to make the case that Trump’s populism isn’t modern know-nothingism built on hostility to minorities, but rather some last grasp at the American dream.
While it’s true that much of the middle class is running threadbare after decades of conservative policies have left older white Americans justifiably angry and scared, it’s not true that this is just some blue-collar movement built on economic anxiety. Trump supporters — more than any other candidates’ — oppose diversity, feel minorities are taking their opportunities and generally prefer white people to black people.
Be worried: These urges exist to some to degree in most American voters, but since the rejection of George Wallace, few candidates have sought to blatantly exploit them in the way Trump has.
The appeal to ethnocentrism has been a bulwark of conservative politics for generations, UC Berkeley Law professor Ian Haney López argues, and a key to the right’s strategy of turning the white working class against the government programs that made the world’s largest middle class possible in the first place. Trump’s willingness to turn to the darkest urges of dog-whistle politics has made him nearly unstoppable in the GOP primary, and a potential electoral catastrophe in the general election.
Most Republicans will eventually buy into the fantasy that Trump’s vicious racial appeals can be erased from our memories, because they have to. And so will the press.
The reluctance to smear a whole group as racist is a valuable urge. But it’s just condescending not to expect the adults who support Trump to see what that they’ve bought into.
That’s why it’s crucial to make keep making this point: Supporting Trump may not necessarily make you a racist, but at the very least it does mean you’re tolerant of bigotry. Here’s why.
If you want to make the case that a compliant press has made Trump’s candidacy possible, as I have, consider why Trump isn’t asked about his obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate, the issue that made him a conservative hero after decades of trying to get someone to take him seriously as presidential candidate. Why? He tells them he doesn’t want to talk about it, and so they don’t. We have no idea if the soon-to-be GOP nominee for president believes the current president is even a citizen. Would he prosecute Obama for treason? What evidence were his claims of fraud built on? No one asks these questions but we all know the answers. It’s all bullshit. Trump exploited an issue based entirely on racial suspicion, and then suffered no consequences for this vile display. In fact, it’s why he’s where he is today. He knew he could get away with it, because he always has.
- He’s been like this for decades.
Trump’s view that foreigners and minorities are America’s biggest problem isn’t new for him. He’s been playing to xenophobia and racial animus for years — whether it was calling for the death penalty for a group of innocent black kids or using the Japanese as a punching bag, long after his accusations bore any semblance of sense. There’s a reason white supremacists are inspired by his candidacy, and it isn’t just because he spreads their hate online to millions of Twitter followers.
- Muslim ban.
The idea of banning a group of 1.6 billion people based on their religion is repugnant to a nation that was founded on the basis of offering refuge for freedom of expression. But it’s even uglier when it’s based on the exact kind of Islamophobia ISIS seeks to encourage as it wipes out “the grey zones” where religions co-exist. Muslims are the most common victims of extremist terror and have played a key role in keeping America safe since 9/11, having been responsible for far fewer deaths than — say — furniture or toddlers with guns. To support Trump’s willingness to scapegoat them out of convenience is to support the kind of bigotry that makes us all less safe.
- Anti-Mexican rhetoric.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said as he launched his campaign in July of 2015. “They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” With this began a campaign that has used the idea of the widespread criminality of Mexican-Americans as its foundational belief, backed up by as few facts as Trump’s birtherism. It’s especially ridiculous rhetoric at a time when crime and border crossings are at or near generational lows, and while America’s population of undocumented immigrants is actually dropping.
- Willingness to turn America into a police state to uproot immigrants.
The Republican promise of a smaller government will instantly disappear when the party endorses “Deportation Squads” to round up 11 million undocumented people. “Conservatives” back this plan because they can’t — or won’t — acknowledge the millions of undocumented people who’ve come here by plane and the more than half of the 11 million who aren’t Mexicans. They’re enticed by the fantasy of a new “Operation Wetback,” or by visions of brown-skinned marauders flooding our border. How do we know? Because that’s exactly what Donald Trump put in his first TV commercial.
Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media during a news conference at the construction site of the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Building in Washington, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Undocumented immigrants have lost another round in federal court. So has President Obama, who has attempted to put in place an enlightened policy that would delay deportations for some 4 million illegal border crossers, many of them young people who think of themselves as Americans.
But several days ago, a panel dominated by conservative judges reaffirmed an earlier ruling that blocked the president’s executive order from going into effect. That means Obama’s plan to sidestep Congress and grant temporary quasi-legal status to qualified undocumented immigrants is in trouble.
Predictably, many Republicans are exulting. They have blasted Obama’s executive orders as despotic, and many of them play to their ultraconservative base by bashing immigrants without papers. They see the court rulings as justifiable limits on a president whose policies they abhor.
Yet, these court rulings on immigration have hardly done Republicans a favor. In fact, the decisions are likely to prove a major headache for GOP presidential primary candidates, who are already suffering a poor reputation among Latino voters.
Since Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, Republican strategists have attempted to repair the party’s image among Latinos, urging their major political players to adopt a more favorable policy toward illegal immigrants. They know that Mitt Romney was haunted by his rhetoric favoring “self-deportation”; Latinos supported Obama over Romney 71 percent to 27 percent.
Still, Republicans have had difficulty reaching out to them. Most of the presidential candidates have tried to keep quiet on the issue of illegal immigration, hoping not to be caught in the sort of misstep that Romney made, but also trying not to alienate their primary voters.
Among the major contenders, only Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, has been outspoken in advocating a compassionate approach to illegal immigrants. Speaking at an April event celebrating his father, Bush said: “Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”
But even Bush has soft-pedaled on a significant point, according to Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent: “(Bush) has also retreated to a safer position, hinting he agrees we must secure the border before legalization.”
That’s a typical Republican dodge, one that most of the party’s major pols have used in the last several years. Here’s the problem: The border is as secure as it can get without being hermetically sealed. The Washington Post, using figures from the Pew Research Center, reports that illegal immigration is at its lowest point in 20 years. Moreover, Obama has deported more undocumented workers than his predecessors — a sore point among his Latino supporters.
Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, has already made a bold play to sew up the Latino vote in the general election. Earlier this month, she called for granting “full and equal citizenship” to the undocumented. “Today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one. When they talk about ‘legal status,’ that’s code for ‘second-class status,'” she said.
Most of the GOP candidates were muted in their response to Clinton’s salvo, but recent court rulings blocking Obama’s orders will force them out into the open. They will have to outline their own proposals for dealing with the estimated 10 million or so undocumented workers living in the shadows.
There are plenty of good reasons for Republicans to support a path to citizenship for those who have committed no other crime than crossing the border without papers. Those reasons include incorporating a family-oriented and relatively youthful group who will help the United States avoid an age-related demographic bust like that facing Japan and some European countries.
But for the GOP, the main reason may well be political: Latinos are the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country, and it would be suicidal for the party to continue to alienate them.
Cynthia Tucker won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo: The GOP needs to stop hiding behind these guys: The U.S. Border Control. esteban pulido via Flickr
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