SAN DIEGO – As a Mexican-American columnist, there is one criticism that I hear quite often. Some readers say that, for me, “it’s always about race.”
Not always. Not this time.
I’ve been inundated with letters and comments from Latinos who insist that the election of Donald Trump is all about race and racism.
They’re being way too simplistic. There are dozens of things that got Trump elected – from a sluggish economy and fear about the Islamic State, to the corruption of the Clintons and a desire to blow up the system – that have nothing to do with race.
Of course, it would be dishonest to totally brush aside the suggestion that racism, fear and hatred factored heavily into the Trump vote. Given everything that occurred in the last 17 months, and the hateful behavior we’ve seen from pro-Trump “sore winners” in just the last few days, I have no doubt that race was an ingredient in the stew.
I just don’t believe that race was the primary ingredient. I say this despite the fact that a lot of fellow Latinos – including friends and family, and other people whose opinions I respect – vehemently disagree with me. They also tell me that I’m naive for letting white people off the hook for what some commentators are calling a “whitelash.”
After all, they say, look at the numbers. A newspaper headline blares: “White Voters in Broad Bloc Shaped Upset.” Exit polls show that four of the decisive states were in the Rust Belt – Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Each of them is overwhelmingly white and they all went for Trump. In the Southwest, Nevada and Colorado were also important. They’re largely Latino, and Clinton won both.
Get the picture?
With African-American turnout way down, and Latinos and white voters both voting in droves, this election degenerated quickly into a battle of white vs. brown. And white won.
My cousin described the weird and scary nightmare that woke him up in the wee hours after election night as “the one where Whitey gets his revenge.”
My wife assures me that there are “a lot of white people out there who have been raised to believe that anyone who doesn’t look like them or speak their language doesn’t belong in this country” and that they used this election to reclaim power.
A good friend who has spent his life working in politics and public policy insists that white Americans “reclaimed ownership of a nation that we thought we were part of.”
My old college roommate says that America “broke 1 / 8his 3 / 8 heart” and that, while he has always believed that “we must elect decent leaders who reject hate,” it didn’t happen this time.
I have Latino Facebook friends who will tell you with a straight face that Trump is “little Hitler” and that the nation’s 54 million Latinos are headed to concentration camps.
Which, I have to say, will be darn inconvenient for the 48 percent of Cuban-Americans who shamed themselves by voting for Trump.
Even so, I’m not immune to paranoia. The day after the election, I found myself scrutinizing all the white people in the restaurant where I had breakfast, wondering which of them voted for Trump. They must have Latino friends and neighbors, maybe even in-laws. Do they care that many of us consider a vote for Trump as the equivalent of a punch in the gut? Guess not.
What happened to the idea – advanced by both liberals and conservatives when it is convenient – that we’re one country, united? E pluribus unum and all that? Trump may be good for late-night comedy, but he’s harmful to national comity.
Be that as it may, it doesn’t do much for the “it’s all about race” argument that overall, according to exit polls, as many as 29 percent of Latinos voted for Trump. That’s 2 points higher than the 27 percent of Latinos who, four years ago, voted for Mitt Romney. I predicted 20 percent, and I was way off.
Are these folks “racist” against their own kind? Are they self-hating ethnics? Should we begin putting voting booths in psychiatrists’ offices?
I don’t think we’re there yet. This election was complicated. Human nature, even more so.
Those Latinos who voted for Trump weren’t necessarily evil. Just very wrong. Ditto for the millions of white Americans who made the same mistake.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.