While Donald Trump seeks reelection in the race against Democrat Joe Biden, the question is, as in the 2016 cycle, why a percentage of Latinos continue supporting a president who has offended the Latino community with rhetoric and public policy; who has flirted with white supremacists; who is anti-immigrant and is precisely not the model of morality and the values that so many of those Latinos claim to hold, particularly those who are religious.
Back in 2016 each and every one was surprised that 29% of Latino voters pulled the lever for Trump, and it was revealed that there had been undoubtedly a common thread between ideology and politics that overcame the barrage of attacks on this community in particular, the echo of which is still heard today.
The simplest response is that the Latino community in the United States is as diverse, ideologically-speaking, as the nationalities that comprise it. They go from ultraconservative to ultraliberals, passing through moderates. Also their life experiences determine which party or candidate they identify with the most, especially if they feel that this politician is responding to their needs and interests, although many times that is not the case.
Further still, loyalty to a political party plays a large role and can lead to a victory no matter who is the nominee.
According to Professor Sylvia Manzano, a pollster with the firm Latino Decisions, “Latinos who support Trump do not take his insults into account (whether it is to their ethnicity, gender, military experience, national origin, etc.), only his party. The priority for them is voting for and electing Republicans —it is similar to women who support Trump despite all the ugly things we heard him say about grabbing women – his insults have no bearing on their vote.”
On June 16, 2015, when Trump descended the golden staircase of Trump Tower on New York’s 5th Avenue to launch his primary campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Mexican immigrants were his scapegoat.
Mexico, Trump said, does not send its best. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” That was his battle cry to attract, successfully, a sector of the voting population that is prejudiced, especially against immigrants. And among this sector there have been and continue to be Latinos.
In fact, over the past four years it has also not been surprising to see not only public demonstrations of support toward the current leader, but specific acts that show the utility of these voters for presidential proposals from Latinos who claim that their very own Hispanics “are destroying the United States.”
While in other sectors of the Latino community an insult against one of us is an insult against us all, there’s another group that should not be taken for granted and is convinced that this prejudice from Trump and his followers “has nothing to do with them.”
To be clear, there is an erroneous perception that all Latinos think the same way, that the same things offend them, that we are all standing in solidarity with our community or that we operate as a united front. Lamentably, racism and prejudices among Latinos themselves, whether based on national origin, race, socioeconomic status, or level of education, are rampant. In fact, it could even be said that their treatment is even more offensive, especially if the attack and insult comes from a Latino in a better position in the fabric of the U.S. system than he who is the object of the offensive rhetoric, paradoxically, in his own language.
In that way, those who believe themselves to be “superior” are convinced that Trump’s insults are not directed at them, but at the “illegals,” or “others,” although perhaps in a white supremacist demonstration, those supremacists would make no distinction between the Latino who supports Trump and he who does not support him, because for them we are all in the same category.
It’s that, according to the supremacist psyche, no Latino fits the socio-demographic model that is trying to be re-implanted in the United States since Trump’s rise to power. So much so that the Latino comfortable with the anti-immigrant rhetoric is only useful as long as there is an electoral process that guarantees Trump’s permanence in the White House. Outside of this context, all Latinos, anti-immigrant and pro-immigrant, become one and the same to the supremacist strain of U.S. Americans.
Worse still is that even immigrants and Latinos who are not white, are of limited means, or are without a higher education discriminate among themselves.
For the analyst and strategist José Parra, in certain parts of the country the Latinos who make up part of the ruling class, whether through politics or business, live in a type of bubble and think they are immune to racism, until they have to go to another part of the country where they have to face it.
Moreover, there are groups that condemn dictatorial regimes in their countries of origin but support a president with an affinity to dictators, who has even indicated that the Constitution should be amended to allow him to remain in power more than the two permitted presidential terms. A president who attacks the press and who wanted to use the judicial branch of this country to prosecute his opponents. That smells like a dictator, but the anti-dictators do not get it because he is from their party.
“Unfortunately in places like Miami, there are undemocratic people, because if it was up to them, only one party and its ideology would rule. They don’t give a damn about the diversity of various viewpoints,” Parra says. “We also have a very strong machista current in our culture and Trump projects being the ‘Alpha Male,’ so that gets many people’s attention.”
After all that Trump has said and done against Latinos “he should be losing the Latino vote by 90%, but sadly he retains between 25-30%, depending on the survey in question, and that has a lot to do with this machismo or with his anti-democratic positions that sadly resonate among certain groups of Hispanics,” he adds.
But on the other side of the coin are those Latinos who stand in solidarity with others, no matter their national origin or immigration, economic, or education status. The scenes of immigrant children separated from their mothers at the border and caged as a consequence of Trump’s family separation policy generated indignity from the Latino community, although a group always exists that says that laws are laws and those who violate them have to face the consequences.
The belief that the economy is doing well is another factor in Latino support for Trump. “This president inherited a buoyant economy from Barack Obama, which he then destroyed through his mismanagement of the pandemic,” says Parra.
And although millions of people are now without work, about to lose their homes, or food insecure, in the world of myths and perceptions that Trump dominates, many continue to believe that the “successful businessman” will bail them out. The recent revelations about his tax returns put this image in question when, according to what The New York Times found, the U.S. president paid only $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and paid nothing in ten of the last fifteen years because he had lost much of the money he had made.
Even still, “with the accumulation of all of those factors mentioned, there are still 25-30% of Latino voters who support Trump,” declares Parra.
To read the Spanish version of this article click here.