By Gus West
It’s safe to say that Donald Trump doesn’t have many fans in the Hispanic community.
The real estate mogul rose to power spewing rhetoric that was openly hostile to Latinos. He’s promised to deport more undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the nation’s southern border. And who can forget his smear of Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists?”
But Hispanics shouldn’t take Trump’s election as a personal affront — or a signal that they’re unwelcome in their own land. In fact, polling data show the United States remains far more united in its commitment to tolerance, diversity, and fair immigration policy than at any time in our history.
Those who value these principles can’t afford to be distracted by their private contempt for Trump. Now is the time for sober, loyal opposition focused on the legitimate policy threats posed by an erratic president.
That process starts with the recognition that Trump’s divisive tenor, particularly on immigration issues, isn’t representative of the nation at large. After all, his share of the popular vote was nearly 3 million short of his opponent Hillary Clinton’s. The “rigged system” that Trump spent much of the campaign decrying is what installed him in the White House.
If anything, Trump’s brand of hateful fear-mongering has helped unify Americans against his most extreme views. A majority opposes Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
His commitment to mass deportation is no more popular. According to a new Gallup poll, more Americans are satisfied with current immigration levels than at any time since the organization began monitoring the issue. A separate survey finds support for offering a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants has hit a new high of 60 percent.
In other words, Trump was elected despite his attitudes towards Hispanics — not because of them.
The economy played a more decisive role in the recent presidential election than immigration. In November’s exit polls, more than half of voters ranked the economy as the top national issue.
Trump claimed the votes of 78 percent of Americans who said they’d lost ground financially in recent years. They bought his argument that he could create the kinds of steady, middle-class jobs that have been missing from our economy since at least the Great Recession.
For Americans that feel left behind by current economic trends — including many blacks and Hispanics — Trump represented a break from the status quo. When asked which of Trump’s qualities mattered most to his voters, 82 percent pointed to his potential to “bring change.”
In return for that change, many of these voters were willing to overlook the president’s profound character flaws. Twenty percent of his voters disapproved of his temperament, according to the exit polls. The same share judged him dishonest and untrustworthy.
Latinos should refuse to be distracted by Trump’s rhetoric — and should train their critique on his policies and the threat he poses to the values and institutions on which our republic rests.
It’s essential that the Hispanic community — and all those who support the ideals of pluralism, equality, individual liberty, and the rule of law — commit to forcefully and vigilantly opposing the president whenever his policies violate these principles.
A “loyal opposition” is loyal to these constitutional principles, not to the occupant of the Oval Office. Hispanics must resist the temptation to latch onto every breach of civility and tasteless comment Trump generates — and reserve their energies for the genuine policy battles that lie ahead.
Gus West is president of the Hispanic Institute.