För en breddad analys av amerikansk politik

Författare: Susan Hegeman

Will we ever get closure?

It’s like we’re in an endless car ride with a drunk at the wheel. No one knows when the pain will stop.  

Psychologist Daphne De Marneffe, on our current traumas

The events of the last month or so have gotten me thinking a lot about the issue of closure. Many of us were happy to see 2020 come to an end and anticipate something better for the new year. But the political closure many were looking for in November in the change of presidents from Donald Trump to Joe Biden was deferred by Trump and his supporters’ refusal to acknowledge the election results. Trump’s persistent claims that the election was “rigged” boiled over on January 6 in the riotous storming of the Capitol Building. Trump’s supporters came with their own closure issues, determined to stop the lawful counting of the ballots of the Electoral College, and thereby prevent Trump’s removal from power. 

The National Mall, Presidential Inauguration, January 2021. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
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Normalized Gun Violence…or a New Student Movement?

Young protesters on the steps of the Broward County Federal courthouse on Feb. 17, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last Wednesday, the day that seventeen young people were murdered in their school in Parkland, Florida, one of my own children’s teachers interrupted the regular curriculum to talk to them about what to do if an “active shooter” showed up at their school. Here’s what he told them: If the shooter is in the school building but not nearby, dive out the windows of the classroom and run like hell. But if he is nearby, one person gets to hide in a closet. Maybe two children can fit under the teacher’s desk. Everyone else should cower near the windows, where the shooter might not be able to see them and thus go to the next classroom. If the shooter enters the classroom anyway, the teacher will stand by the door with something heavy like a stool and try to disarm them before they open fire.

As it happens, the teacher delivered this little lecture before anyone knew of the terrible tragedy unfolding at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. At schools across the US, it has become fairly routine for teachers and kids to talk about this kind of horror.  Preparing for the possibility of being gunned down in a classroom will be part of my children’s memory of their school years. This is what it means for gun violence to be normalized in American society.

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Charlottesville and the Symbolism of the Civil War

In 2015, a young white supremacist named Dylann Roof walked into a prayer meeting in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine people, all African American, in cold blood. Amid the mourning and soul-searching after that terrible event, there was one perhaps surprising outcome: an intensified conversation about the meaning of the public symbolism and commemoration of the American Civil War (1860-65).

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President Trump’s Wild Ride

Though only two weeks old, the Trump presidency has been one crazy ride.  For opponents of Trump’s candidacy, the bad news just keeps coming, in the form of problematic cabinet appointees and executive actions, crazy tweets, and disturbing public statements and performances. But at least Trump seems to have brought Americans together in one way: even those who are more sympathetic to Trump seem to have been a bit rattled by all the presidential news of these past two weeks.

Even more unsettling is the sheer pace of the news about the new administration.  Making sense of it is like trying to drink from a firehose. Yet make sense of it we must, if only to begin to distinguish what is “normal,” as opposed to what is truly new and different about this president and the changes he intends to implement. What follows are two observations about what Trump has done since taking office.  The first is about the nature of his executive actions, and the second is about his administration’s strategy of delivering them so quickly and to such destabilizing effect.

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Voting Wars, 2016

While the rest of the country has been distracted by the spectacle of the first presidential debate, another and arguably far more important part of the 2016 election is now well underway. This is the “ground game,” where the campaigns and the groups that support them do the hard work of ensuring that their candidate’s supporters actually turn out to vote. Meanwhile, the darker arts of voter suppression are also in play. In the US, voting itself is a politicized process, and all the more so in 2016, because this election could very well be decided on voter turnout.

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Follow the Money!

DUBUQUE, IA - JANUARY 30: A vendor sells merchandise outside a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the airport on January 29, 2016 in Dubuque, Iowa. Trump is in Iowa trying to gain support in front of the state's February 1 caucuses. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The US political news was dominated this week by stories about Donald Trump’s floundering campaign. On Monday, he fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, a longtime confidante whose strategy to “let Trump be Trump” apparently ran afoul not only of the Republican political establishment but of Trump’s own children. But early Tuesday there was worse news yet, in the form of new information about the Trump campaign’s ailing finances.

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Trump’s Revealing Stumble on Abortion

As indicated in national polls and in the polls for the April 5 battleground primary in Wisconsin, Donald Trump’s astonishing popularity finally seems to be eroding. Most commentators have attributed this to one key gaffe.

Last Wednesday, at a Town Hall Meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Trump was asked about the legal implications of his position that, with just a few exceptions, abortion should be made illegal. Trump first conceded that if abortions were banned, then many women would seek out illegal options. When pressed on what the consequences should be for those women, Trump stated that “there has to be some form of punishment.”

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Sunshine, Oranges, and Presidential Politics

Unknown-1Ever since the debacle of the 2000 presidential election, there are special associations between presidential politics and the state of Florida.  That year, Florida’s contingent of delegates was pivotal to the outcome of the very close race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. A virtual tie vote in the state, combined with massive mismanagement of the election in some counties, led to a notorious recount of ballots that was only stopped by the intervention of the US Supreme Court. 16 years later, some still debate whether President Bush rightfully or wrongly became president because of what happened in Florida.

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2016: The Year of the Grouch?

It’s a common question on many exit polls: “Which was more important in your vote today: your candidate’s position on the issues, or your candidate’s leadership or personal qualities?” (Here’s the New York Times’s version, after the New Hampshire primaries).

“Personal qualities” here can mean a number of things. On the one hand, it is a code-word for personal attributes such as gender, race, or age. It can also be a euphemism for how convincingly candidates show the right kind of religious devotion, or how well candidates have distanced themselves from scandal. But the question also speaks to seemingly superficial questions of “likeability,” charisma and charm—all of which can make a presidential election sometimes seem a bit more like a beauty pageant or a reality TV show than a serious exercise of democracy.

Yet “personal qualities” in all these senses do matter, and have always mattered in presidential politics, in part because the president, as head of state, symbolically represents the US as a whole.
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Cruz, Rubio, and the Latino Vote

Election observers who were appalled by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant comments about Mexico sending criminals and “rapists” over the US border might find some pleasure in the outcome of the Iowa caucuses, in which two sons of Latino immigrants emerged as possible Republican party nominees.

Together, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio won more than half of the Republican votes: 28% for Cruz, and 23% for Rubio. Cruz successfully mobilized Iowa’s conservative Christian voters to come in first place in Iowa, ahead of Trump.  Meanwhile, Rubio, who came in third place, seems to have won the night as far as much of the mainstream press was concerned.  He has effectively been anointed the new candidate of a Republican establishment that is very unhappy with the prospect of either Trump or Cruz as their party’s nominee.

Yet it is far from clear that either of these candidates represents Latinos, or that they will have an easy time fixing the Republican Party’s serious problem with Latino voters. In 2008 and 2012, Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Obama (in 2012, he received 73% of the Latino vote), and a recent poll sponsored by the Spanish-language media company Univision,  indicates that Latinos as a whole continue to strongly lean Democratic. It also shows that Trump’s hostile comments have damaged their opinion of the Republican Party as a whole.

Nevertheless, Republicans remain hopeful that Latinos, many of whom hold conservative views on social issues, could yet be attracted to their party. And both Democrats and Republicans agree that they need to court this growing population of voters, who as a group are younger than the US population as a whole. Latino voters are seen as key to winning the presidency in 2016, and as necessary for building the parties’ strength in the future.


Ted Cruz speaking at the Iowa GOP’s Growth and Opportunity Party in Des Moines, Iowa on October 31, 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore

The foreign-born population of the US has been rising steadily since the 1970s, and the majority of these newcomers are Latinos (sometimes called Hispanics), with countries of origin in South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. There are about 55.4 million Latinos in the US (17.4% of the population) concentrated in the three most populous states: California, Texas, and Florida.  But according to Pew Research, Latinos have dispersed across the U.S., changing the social makeup of many communities.  This is particularly notable in smaller cities and rural parts of the country, where laborers, many of Mexican or Central American origin, have found jobs in agriculture, construction, and service work. The increased national visibility of Latinos is likely behind some of the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino feeling to which Trump has given voice.

The Role of Cuba

Both Cruz and Rubio’s conservative politics are derived to some extent from those of the Cuban-American community, for whom the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959 was a formative event.  For decades, the defining political issue for much of this community was the destruction of the Castro regime. Cruz and Rubio have, as a matter of course, both felt the need to contextualize their own conservative politics in relation to their families’ experiences in the Cuban Revolution.  Yet both have also aroused some controversy over their statements on this issue. In 2011, the Washington Post accused Rubio of deceptively presenting himself as the son of political “exiles” from the Castro regime, when in fact his parents came to the US in 1956, before Castro took power. Similarly, the Dallas Morning News found that Cruz conveniently avoided the fact that his father, Rafael Cruz, a conservative evangelical preacher, actually fought alongside pro-Castro revolutionaries, and came to the US in 1957 to escape persecution by the Batista regime (The elder Cruz soon after recanted his former allegiance and is now a committed anti-Castro anti-communist).

But it is unclear how much any of this matters. A Pew study finds that younger Cuban Americans and more recent immigrants from Cuba do not share the strongly conservative views of the exile generation, and they are likely to disagree with Cruz and Rubio about what was once the key issue among Cuban American voters: that of US relations with Cuba.  But it must also be remembered that Cuban Americans make up only a small portion of the total Latino population, many of whom identify much more closely with the experience of economic migration than with political exile. While there are only about 2 million Latinos of Cuban origin in the US, 34 million Latinos are of Mexican origin.


Marco Rubio speaking at the Iowa GOP’s Growth and Opportunity Party in Des Moines, Iowa on October 31, 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore

For many of these others, Cubans are perceived as a somewhat privileged group. The Cuban exiles often came from the wealthy elites of Cuban society, and they also received special accommodations from the US government, some of which continue to benefit recent Cuban immigrants.  A law passed a few years after the Cuban Revolution is still in place that makes any Cuban national who has resided in the US for one year automatically eligible for permanent residency in the US, regardless of whether they first entered the US legally or illegally.

So while a good portion of the Republican base may love the idea of a Latino candidate talking tough about cracking down on illegal immigrants and further militarizing the Mexican border, as both Cruz and Rubio have done, this may sound very different to a voter of Mexican descent. For that voter, already insulted by Trump and stigmatized as an “illegal,” it may only be a reminder that American citizenship is easier for some Latinos to achieve than for others.

Though Cruz and Rubio may have made history in Iowa as the first Latino politicians to make credible advances toward the presidency, it seems unlikely that either candidate will win over the majority of Latino voters. More likely, the candidate who will best appeal to this increasingly important but diverse group will address the issues that the Univision poll has identified as their top concerns: jobs and the economy, education, and an immigration policy that favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. So far, most Latinos identify with the Democratic candidates’ views on these key issues, and they will likely to continue to do so, at least through 2016.

Susan Hegeman

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