From time to time, my wife accuses me of “overthinking” problems … a damned obsession with wanting to know why things happen the way they do. So it was several mornings ago when Politico reported that Donald Trump was starting to make inroads into Arizona’s Latino population. I muttered under my breath, “This campaign is driving me bat sh*t crazy.” Katherine, who could hear a pin drop at a hundred yards, put on a worried face.
What was up was the same astonishment I always feel whenever I encounter evidence that a pot smoker, a gay, a black, a poor person or even a self-aware woman plans to vote for our reality TV president.
I know wedge issues are the stock-in-trade of the Republican Party. Have been ever since Newt Gingrich’s Contract on America. Maybe even 20 years earlier when they made their unholy alliance with the bigots in the Deep South who fled the Democratic Party over its support of civil rights.
At least, in a Machiavellian way, that much makes sense. While rich folks almost always vote their pocketbooks, they also realize that there are a heap more poor folks. A way had to be found to nullify those sheer numbers by sleight of hand. Forget the vast inequality of wealth and opportunity in America and worry instand ead about guns, Reds, pinkos, queers, abortion and the Bible in public schools.
This list goes on but it still doesn’t explain why any clear-headed first or second generation Hispanic would cast a ballot for Trump. The battle lines seem so clearly drawn.
How could any self-respecting Latino voter — aware of brown skinned children locked up in cages, families brutally torn apart at the border and a barrage of slurs against the Mexican people as rapists and murderers — support the man responsible for fomenting this climate of fear and hatred?
Then, slowly, it came to me in bits and pieces. Abortion and Catholic teachings. Right. But abortion has been a hot-button issue for decades. Why now? Why Trump of all people? Is it Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination bringing Roe V. Wade front and center? Still, that doesn’t carry nearly enough weight as an explanatory variable. These aren’t fundamentalist Bible-bangers, after all.
Then I remembered Cesar Chavez’s opposition to illegal immigration and another motive began to emerge. This champion of the dispossessed went so far as to dispatch his union’s members to form “life lines” to southern Arizona to turn back undocumenteds at the border. It seemed immigration agents were proving slack in their enforcement of border security and were allowing immigrants in as strikebreakers, scabs, to cripple the United Farm Workers’ organizing efforts.
Though controversial at the time, Chavez’s move made sense. He knew what organizers have known from the breaking of the Pullman Car strike to the present day. Organized labor can always count on the combined forces of government repression with corporate power. Whether in the mining wars of Kentucky or the Palmer Raids which broke the back of the Wobblies, big business always found the Feds a reliable ally.
If the United Farm Workers patrolling the borders seemed reasonable enough, what to make of the Latinos for Trump? There is no union fight and are no illegal alien scabs terrified of deportation and willing to take any field job at any pay under any conditions.
Then I recalled the rage of the Black Panther Party at the black bourgeoisie who — growing up on the wrong side of the tracks — soon forgot their brothers and sisters when they were given a chance to scrape a few crumbs off the white man’s table.
And here was my answer. In their lack of compassion and understanding for the plight of migrants, Trump Latinos no longer feel solidarity with their race, la Raza. No longer identify their fates with those of the oppressed. The last thing in the world they want to be reminded of is how very close they are to slipping back into that anonymous mass of brown-skinned refugees.
Their hope for a bigger slice of the bloated, decaying American pie is to kiss the padron’s ring. Thus it has ever been in a nation divided between the haves and have nots.
Mea culpa: A sharp-eyed reader fact-checked my recent column. Trump’s lies topped 20,000, not 2,000 as indicated.
A lifelong activist, Steve McGehee settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.