It was at 2:45 am on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 that it really hit me that something profound had happened in American politics. They announced on the television that Hillary Clinton had just called Donald Trump to concede the Presidency. At that moment I could virtually feel the collective buttocks of the country’s political establishments, along with that of progressive outsiders, tighten every so much. America’s constipated political system just received a major suppository.
There had been much anticipation in the Latino community that reaction to Trump’s clearly anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant views would usher in an era of a new political influence for our community. Projections were made of a record growth in the Latino electorate, bringing it to 10-11 percent of the total voters. Days before the election, the media reported a “surge” in Latino voting. While the Latino Decisions pollsters predicted that Trump would get as a little as 17 percent of the Latino vote, CNN’s exit poll put the figure at 29 percent (33 percent by those Latinos in Florida), a finding that will no doubt spur intense debate.
Steve Philips in his Brown is the New White argues that “the conventional wisdom about the importance of chasing White swing voters is both mathematically wrong and politically perilous” in describing a new American majority consisting of people of color and progressive Whites. However, Trump’s victory is based on an energized and long ignored White vote . . . There were a lot more out there than many thought. The reliance on what some saw as an almost inevitable demographic, political revolution simply didn’t materialize, despite glimpses of its possibilities that came in the form of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
The result is that the leverage, however limited, that Latino leaders thought they would have in a Hillary Clinton Administration has vanished. Those planning to get federal jobs or contracts now have to make other plans. Groups like the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and the Latino Victory Project who have developed a resume bank of Latinos to propose for federal appointments will now have to completely reassess their strategies and criteria.
Besides Trump as President, this election also resulted in both houses of Congress remaining under the control of the Republican Party. Although the first Latina, a Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Senate, so was Marco Rubio reelected. Support for Trump’s campaign promises is, therefore, strong with his party controlling the executive and legislative branches, and with the opportunity he will have to determine the composition of the Supreme Court.
The Latino community can, therefore, look forward, at minimum, to the following challenges:
• Trump has committed himself to vacate President Obama’s executive orders, especially those related to immigration reforms that are currently being contested in the courts.
• Trump will be increasing the funding of ICE for border security, to expedite the deportation of the undocumented with criminal records, oppose “sanctuary cities” and propose Mexico’s funding of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, while he considers what do with the rest.
• Trump will be stopping or significantly limiting the admission of Syrian refugees and others from Muslim countries into the United States, using “extreme” vetting and religious tests, a policy that can easily be extended to Latin America based on national security concerns.
• Trump will be nominating Antonin Scalia-type conservatives to the Supreme Court, putting in jeopardy Roe v. Wade, the reform of the Voting Rights Act, the closing down of any gun control legislation, etc.
• Trump will be replacing of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) with a health savings plan or some other as yet unspecified health insurance program.
• Trump has not endorsed a plan to resolve Puerto Rico’s massive debt crisis and so the Island cannot expect any strengthening of current Congressional assistance nor a change in its future political status.
The major constraint on a President Trump is the framework of the United States Constitution. It provides a general framework for governance that outlines the principles of the separation of powers, federalism, a Bill of Rights, and so on. How the various political actors will be interacting in the development of policies and programs within this context is unclear at this point. One reason is that Trump is certainly the most unconventional person to hold the Presidency, never having served in public office or the military before. There is also considerable uncertainty about the future of his Republican Party and its leadership and role given its seemingly hostile takeover by him.
The apparent dysfunction of the two major political parties in performing their gatekeeper function potentially provides some political opportunities for Latinos. The Republican Party will be undergoing some form of fundamental restructuring that may return them to a reconsideration of their 2012 “autopsy” that called for greatly diversity and inclusion. The Democratic Party’s current humiliating defeat by Trump raises serious legitimacy questions about their leadership and operations that could create some important openings for Latinos to play a bigger role in the party and its leadership.
Whatever develops, it is clear that the Latino community needs to go through a process of rethinking current strategies and agendas to make them more effective in this dramatically changed political environment. This will require some critical self-reflection that we so rarely see and that now becomes urgent as we enter the Era of Trump.
Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), for which he edits the online information service, The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy. For further information, visit www.latinopolicy. org. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org