So the year ends and so does this blog on a regular three-times-per-week basis. In the year that begins tomorrow, change and events will continue to rock our world. Sadly, television too soon will break into our lives with news of another mass shooting. The possibility that Israel will launch its already-planned attack on Iran’s nuclear installations becomes probability as each day passes. By the end of the spring, the fragile economy might have been harassed back into recession by obdurate House Republicans whose political near-sightedness obscures the electoral razor atop their noses. Still, despite the immediacy of these events, the most transcendental if not outright existential story for the country remains how HispanicLatinos develop socially, economically and politically. And so from time to time a thought or two on the subject will appear in this same space.
The beginnings of the HispanicLatino storyline appear old already. The drumbeat of demographic change has become monotony. Yet the story is just beginning. The objective of this blog, which began in the late summer of 2011, intended to advance foundational thought and reflection beyond the routine talking point of a Hispanic/Latino population remaking the country. HispanicLatinos, after all, will prove more important than the next mass shooting or the combined competitive evolution in the near future of the Brazilian, Chinese, Indian and Mexican economies. HispanicLatinos must succeed for America to survive.
The HispanicLatino phenomenon, though, is not easily captured. It seems an apparition in slow-motion, though it is not. Millions of HispanicLatinos are making millions of individual decisions in their lives daily – from diet to debt – that in the long run will be more important than whether the European Union survives. The composite meaning of those decisions escapes the attention it deserves for many reasons, not the least of which is the slow, drawn-out understanding by HispanicLatinos of their importance to the country. The failure of the majority of HispanicLatinos to not understand the historic proportion of their existence relative to the rest of the population threatens the country. It is, in fact, a matter of national security.
The end of the year holds promising signs for the country and HispanicLatinos – unless the Republican-held House of Representatives drives the global financial markets into turmoil and drags the economy back into recession and/or various foreign crises detonate. If not for the fiscal cliff, the nation should be able to look forward to start moving again and leaving the blight of the disastrous Bush years behind – finally. With wars ending (and hopefully none soon aborning) and the economy slowly eating away at the remaining distressed properties in an improving housing market, the country can begin to assess what it needs to do to fix itself for the years ahead. Finding the will to rebuild its infrastructure, expand its domestic energy supply and strengthen its educational systems, the nation can deliver on its promise.
Though it takes courage to tackle the issues at hand, a strong economy can salvage much. With the Bush Recession slowly lifting, the oft-misused phrase “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” comes closer to being true. No country’s economy is better positioned to explode – and burn with a flourish. Some of the country’s travails – a plague of obesity, students saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in debt, a corrupted Washington, a broken immigration system, an increasingly farcical Supreme Court – are redeemable. For that precise reason, HispanicLatinos need to step up their efforts to help resolve the challenges that vex the country.
As the Republican party continues its autopsy of its epic failure to unseat an incumbent Democratic President laboring under the worst economy since the Great Depression, it should keep in mind the figures 124 million and 62 million. If at least 124 million Americans vote in a presidential election, they are almost certain to put Democrats in the White House. In truth, President Obama could have given up as many as four million of his 65.6 million votes last month and still won. In the 48 months between the election of 2012 and 2016, another 2.4 million HispanicLatinos will turn 18 and most will be eligible to vote. These new voters represent an increasingly politically-engaged group that last month voted more than 70 percent Democratic. That is how real and deadly the future seems for Republicans.
In many ways the future is unmanageable for the GOP. It is one thing to gaze at the spectacle of House Speaker John Boehner dealing with the Tea party in the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives. That is bad enough. But even if Republicans at the national level can somehow moderate their views on issues of importance to HispanicLatinos, women, gays and lesbians and independent voters in general, they will have to deal with radical Republicans at the state level – which for all practical purposes in a digital, 24/7 world can produce unrelenting chaos. Any story coming out from any state capitol or county courthouse can become a national sensation in a microsecond. Think Joe Arpaio in Arizona or Todd Akin in Missouri. That is what makes the 62-million figure important.
It seems inconceivable. Republican leaders in Washington and elsewhere do not get how dangerous the fire they are playing with is. On almost every front – ranging from the disaster of the fiscal cliff to the submarining of President Obama’s governmental nominations to the prosecution of Benghazi to control of dangerous weaponry that kill kids to contraception to defending millionaires’ tax bills – Republicans are the ancien régime before its collapse in France.
It is one thing to not understand that the country no longer agrees with their positions on everything from taxes to gay rights to woman’s choice to climate change. It is quite another thing to not realize that the country is ready to move on. For Republicans, the latter is the more dangerous. Since the country knows what it believes and thinks, when it decides to move on, it will and start leaving the past behind – and it has.
The day was long, its shadows stretching their elongated forms across the road. To the left of me at a car mall along the interstate, a super-sized American flag too heavy to fly full was at half-mast, its drooping symbolic of a nation weighed down by grief and bewilderment about what to do next about the blood-madness unleashed by guns in our society. I wondered if the political system could bear the responsibility of steering the nation around and through what has become a moment of turning, when we as a people are presented with the opportunity to grow. This, after all, is not like the attacks of September 11, 2001. Those attacks were of an enemy foreign to our land; there was no reason to doubt anything. Connecticut was an attack from within. The question now is whether we can react against those who attack us every day and then attack us all at once on a campus of innocents.
When Republicans ponder if they are going the way of the Whigs, they do not have to go much further than listen to Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who aspires to be President. Huckabee said after the tragedy in Connecticut last week that because prayer, according to him, is banned from public schools: Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Huckabee’s God evidently tolerates a misanthropic young man pumping hot bullets into 20 kids and six adults because the Constitution allegedly prohibits prayer in schools. Actually, prayer happens in schools every day.
Had Huckabee been elected President in 2008 – he was the frontrunner at one point – and re-elected in 2012, he would have stood at the podium at the White House from where President Obama spoke to a stunned nation on Friday. But would comfort from a President Huckabee have settled upon the shell-shocked, distraught families of the victims or would blame have rained on them for not forcing the local school board to force the kids of Newtown into prayers clubs?
I cannot even begin to fathom what would have driven Adam Lanza to commit the incomprehensible. And neither can I understand the likes of Huckabee whose view of God is so vengeful and small. All of us have sinned, but I doubt God punishes people who do not pray to Him/Her on a daily basis. Huckabee imagines a God who punishes youngsters for the presumed constitutional transgressions of their parents. Huckabee cheapens God. He cheapens children who had not yet reached the age of reason. For some, Santa Claus had more immediate meaning; and most of them could not even have known what prayer is.
The political bickering over the fiscal cliff looks small, and it is, in comparison to the larger demographic cliff the country already has sailed over with greater implications by far. The fiscal crisis in Washington today is just the beginning of the deeper financial plunge ahead – unless the economy is transformed to create new jobs with better-than-average wages to increase revenues, that is to say, expand the middle class. The Congress and the President can negotiate tax rates but they can do little about the birth, death and obesity rates changing the country and its fiscal foundations far more profoundly than current balances in the federal government’s accounts.
The largest of the combined financial problems, of course, are Medicare and Social Security – whose futures look problematic since the elderly are living longer, minorities are not earning enough to support these programs and the young are incurring obesity-related health-care costs scores of years before they should. When looked at analytically, the precise importance of the HispanicLatino population to the nation’s future becomes glaring. You do not have to know the actuarial and budgetary numbers to understand that the current fiscal abyss is part of the much larger problem. You cannot expect a growing HispanicLatino population with low, static incomes to support the growing cost of everything.
The Supreme Court’s decision to rule on gay marriage after sidestepping the issue for so long constitutes another pivotal moment in the development of the new Hispanic/Latino social and political identity. Like every group that evolves into the consciousness of being an American, HispanicLatinos become in various forms the products of efforts to attain the American ideal — which changes over time. The American of today is not the American of the 1960′s and certainly not the American of a half century later. Neither are HispanicLatinos.
How exactly HispanicLations evolve — bombarded as they have been by the sweeping forces that have transformed society during five decades of halycon change — is not yet fully evident. In many ways Hispanics or/and Latinos are still discovering themselves. Many are sinewously insecure. A population that goes by two different names cannot be anything but a collection of individuals still figuring things out — advancing the idea that HispanicLatinos are not like everyone else. Indeed, they are not alike in many ways to each other. But regarding gay marriage, it would appear that HispanicLatinos intoto have moved past their former thinking — and, thus, their former selves.
The more interesting question is why HispanicLatinos are not following the script they were once expected to read from and, more so, how does one address them in the third millennium of modern time and the third century of the American Republic?
The recent fire in a factory in Bangladesh that claimed the lives of114 garment workers generated international headlines and calls for reform of working conditions in similar plants in Asia. Yet the ongoing human tragedy along the border with Mexico somehow escapes notice. Scores of mostly Mexican immigrants are dying trying to get across along the frontier. More than 120 bodies of human beings once treking through Brooks County alone in South Texas have been found this year. They died of exposure to harsh conditions, rattlesnakes, dehydration and foul play. The number of victims more likely reaches 500. Authorities estimate that only one in four victims is ever found. The chances of surviving are low.
This ghastly, sad human toll is only one of the imperatives that should be driving discussions about immigration in Washington. At the moment, though, there does not seem to be a draft plan being discussed uniformly by all interested parties. If a breakthrough is not soon achieved, it will be a long time before today’s propitious, post-election opportunity comes again. And, if the latest jobs report from the Department of Labor released last week indicates an economy turning around, then it will become again the magnet dulled by the Bush recession and by the slow recovery afterward. Would now not be the right time to put a system in place so that future immigrant waves are not chaotic repeats of the acrimony and suffering of the past three decades?
News reports in the weeks leading up to the election in November about obstacles being placed to obstruct HispanicLatinos and other minorities from voting terrified a friend of mine in New York. I assured him that the Obama people were on top of the situation. Of course, the Obama team had a lot of it covered, filing lawsuits left and right. More important, though, minority voters reacted and voted in greater numbers than in 2008. Does that mean that efforts to intimidate minority voters will stop? Of course not. The Obama campaign is not going to prosecute the issue, and the individuals who ramrodded these unnecessary, nonsensical laws, aided and abetted by simplistic slogans about drivers’ licenses and boarding airplanes, are motivated not by civic sensitives as they are by racial and ethnic animosities. And that is a lasting feature of life in America today.
That kind of accusatory statement seems to be as pejorative as the unkind statements Tea party types make about minorities. But the anti-voter laws became an avalanche as a reaction to Barack Obama’s win in 2008. Previous superficial social conventions were the products of a belief that the country would never elect a black man President in the first place. So, after his victiry, disappointment gave rise to strategies intended to prevent his re-election by taking aim at all minotities. The motivation of the voter-intimidators was made evident by the fact that these anti-discriminatory laws were enacted not just in swing states but in states that Obama had no chance of carrying. So voter intimidation laws also are aimed at HispanicLatinos who live in swing states and in states that in due time will feel their states pulled into a new political orbit. HispanicLatinos have to be on guard. Maximizing their political power is critical for their social and economic advancement.
But beyond keeping these tactical imperatives in mind and keeping Republicans’ — especially HispanicLatino Republicans’ — feet to the fire, what are the larger issues that HispanicLatinos should dog?