By Duane Campbell
The intolerant agitation promoted by Republican Donald Trump and support of its substance by most Republican candidates is a call to the “silent white majority” and a demand that 11 million immigrants be deported. This campaign is a dangerous and divisive racial message. It must be vigorously opposed.
Trump’s popularity among Republican voters has dramatically risen in the polls, as he now has a double digit lead over runner-up Jeb Bush. His fear mongering political message has found a very receptive base within our society among xenophobic and angry conservative sectors.
We know these campaigns to be dangerous. It is not only the ranting of a fringe right.
The Trump–Republican arguments are factually incorrect and the proposed agenda is impossible to implement short of establishing an authoritarian police state never before seen in the US. How will he deport 11 million, when 40% of these people are members of families with U.S. citizens and thus they are eligible for a green card? For them, it is a matter of the 20-year-long waiting list. And, how will he round up the estimated 40% of all of the workers who arrived with a valid visa, but overstayed their work or tourist visa? How will he find these people? His claims are stupid.
Let us be clear. The attack on Mexican American children by Donald Trump is impossible to implement. They are U.S. citizens.
There is no such thing as an anchor baby. They are U.S. citizens.
There is no such thing as “birth right citizenship,” they are U.S. citizens.
It is offensive that Trump and seven of the other Republican candidates for president would introduce these arguments. They are seeking to create categories of “others” – someone the U.S. could deport.
This is Dog Whistle Politics, as described well in Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, by Ian Haney López (2014).
It is remarkable and disturbing that the US press is treating these racist claims as legitimate political discourse.
These are examples of strategic racism, which is a system of racial oppression created and enforced because it benefits the over class, in this case the many billionaire funders of the Republican Party. Strategic racism as described by López is the development and implementation of practices because they benefit a group or a class. This scapegoating campaign is a product of strategic racism, including a complex structure of institutions and individuals from police and sheriffs to immigration authorities and anti-immigrant activists, Tea Party activists, militia and elected officials and their support networks. These groups foster and promote interracial conflict and job competition as a strategy to keep wages and benefits low and to promote their continuing white supremacy in the nation.
We in California know well the history of this kind of divisive campaign. In the summer of 1993, a failing economy and budget cutbacks combined to make then Governor Pete Wilson the most unpopular governor up until that time. By November of 1994 Wilson won re-election with over 56% of the vote. Two factors combined to deliver victory to Wilson; a mean-spirited, divisive, and racist campaign directed against Mexican and Mexican Americans, in Proposition 187 and an inept campaign by Democratic candidate Kathleen Brown.
We need to recognize the potential advantage of racist scapegoating as revealed in the Wilson-promoted Proposition 187 initiative passed by 2/3 of California voters in 1994. The campaign produced a large turnout of right wing voters. It banned over 600,000 immigrants from receiving needed food stamps, medical care.
Components of Prop. 187 became national law in 1996 as a part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation act of 1996, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. They are Public Law 104-208.
In that election, the voters of California voted 62% to 38% in favor of Proposition 187, then called the Save Our State initiative to restrict illegal immigration. A number of groups including FAIR, the Republican Party, and the Perot organization worked together to qualify the initiative. Today, the anti-immigrant groups include the Tea Party, Minutemen and various militia organizations.
In 1994, California had a population that was 56.3 % White, 26.3 % Latino, 9.4% Asian, 7.4 % African American, and 0.6% other. However, according to exit polls, the voters in this election were 80% white, 9% Latino, 7 % African American, and 4 % Asian. Exit polls show that Latinos voted against Prop. 187 by 3 to 1, African Americans split their vote 50-50, and the Anglo electorate passed the proposition by over 60%. The large turnout of white voters for this divisive initiative gave a substantial electoral victory for Governor Wilson in his re-election campaign. This white vote is the vote Trump and the other Republicans are seeking.
The purpose of Trump’s intolerant bombasts are not to develop a policy — it is to capture and exploit the anxiety and emotion of a particular sub-set of voters: xenophobic Republicans and the hard Tea Party Right. Like George Wallace’s and former California Governor Pete Wilson’s actions, this is a punch to the gut ! Not to the head. So far, it has succeeded in winning a short-term victory while ignoring the long-range consequences of such bigotry.
In response to the 1994 attack on the Mexican American community, Latinos organized to vote in large numbers in future elections. Republicans became a small minority party in California. The California population (not its voters) is currently Latino 37 %, White 37 %, Black 6%, Asian 14%, Native American 2 %, mixed race 4 %.
Anti-immigrant campaigns such as that promoted by Trump have effects and must be opposed. Currently, Trump, and a good number of the other Republican candidates, are making the frothing of base bigotry acceptable in mainstream media. He is repeating and amplifying inaccurate, oppressive, and highly charged stereotypes about race and immigration.
Mexicans, Mexican Americans and other Latinos have good reason to be concerned about the mobilization of racist movements by these harsh and xenophobic campaigns. During the 1930’s some 1,000,000 Mexicans were deported in response to similar campaigns, including over 500,000 US citizens, and an additional 1,000,000 Mexicans were deported in Operation Wetback in the 1950’s. Trump proposes that it should happen again.
Under current law the Obama administration has deported some 2,480,000 undocumented people, including an unspecified number of parents of U.S. citizen children.
Trump, and the others, argue that we should alter the 14th. Amendment to the U S Constitution, or they assert an interpretation of the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to millions born here. Then he argues, we can just deport 11 million people. Where is the outrage?
Trump has remained unapologetic about the derogatory comments he previously made about millions of Mexican immigrants, whom he labeled as being criminals, rapists and drug dealers while admitting in a condescending manner that a few of them were all right.
While the English-speaking media has substantially moved on from the racist, anti-immigrant statements of Trump to cover several of his other provocative statements, on Spanish language media the immigration issue remains pre-eminent. This was illustrated by the confrontation between Trump and journalist Jorge Ramos, an event that continues to shape front-page news. Ramos, a star anchor-journalist in this media says it this way:
“When they attack one of us, they are attacking all of us. . . But we already know what we’re going to do… On election day, we will remember who was with us and who was against us. No, we won’t forget.”
On Sept. 3, candidate Bernie Sanders said in Muscatine, Iowa, speaking about Donald Trump:
Candidates running for president should not stoop to racism and demagoguery to win votes. . . This country has experienced racism for hundreds of years. I would have hoped that by the year 2015 leading candidates for president like Mr. Trump would campaign on their ideas as to how they can address our serious problems, and not by trying to divide the country with racist and demagogic appeals. Clearly Trump is scapegoating the Hispanic community.
Politicians using divisive racial politics must be defeated. To do that, all eligible must register and vote.
Low voter turnout among progressives gives the radical right an opportunity to win.
As the Pew Research Center has pointed out, “Overall, 48% of Hispanic eligible voters turned out to vote in 2012, down from 49.9% in 2008. By comparison, the 2012 voter turnout rate among blacks was 66.6% and among whites was 64.1%, both significantly higher than the turnout rate among Hispanics.” (2013)
Duane Campbell is a professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist, and past chair of Sacramento DSA.
This post is a contribution to the Democratic Left’s recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. See prior post https://www.dsausa.org/dl_hispanic_heritage_ month
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.