When does community end? If the country feels as if it is fraying, that a big scramble is on during which everyone grabs for their own, it is because the sense of unity that fragilely sews together a nation that depends on comity started coming undone first. It is not the economy, stupid. The furies of our times are about something else.
The sad and disturbing fact is that many Americans are having trouble handling the new demography that has come down on them pretty fast. The components of change embedded in the population decades ago by individuals choosing not to have more than two children put the country on a fast track that along with immigration altered the country’s demography. Now the consequences of those decisions are being reflected in an election that people want to treat as a discussion about the direction of the economy and about its closely-related cousin, Medicare. But the election is about so much more. It is about whether the nation at some point understands the dangerous point at which we have arrived, when community is not about everyone. The Republican line about saving America is rhetorical gauze for something more disturbing.
Community breaks down when it becomes evident that it was too brittle and perhaps was never achieved in the first place. The great chapter of American history referred to as the civil rights movement was about how those left out – indeed, kept out – were trying to enter and become part the community. That movement succeeded only partially. But as the new demography gained momentum, the sense that America was indeed going to have a chance to overcome – signified by Barack Obama’s election – gave that moment hope. Yet now his opponents wantonly, consciously declare that he is not a citizen, that he is foreign, that he is European, that he is a Muslim. In so doing they are attacking the symbol and the figurehead of the nation. To these people, the President of the United States is not part of the community.
Barack Obama should not be immune from attack but in today’s world, Mitt Romney can stand up and “joke” – as he did in Michigan last week – that no one would ask him for his birth certificate. That is the whole point. Anyone who does not look like or sound like Romney is at risk.
It might seem a small thing to some but in the latter half of last year, advertising, marketing and programing for a television nation changed from being a strictly white-black affair to a multi-ethnic narrative led numerically but not defined particularly by HispanicLatinos. Most Americans, clearly aware of the history of the Civil War and the legacy of slavery, could handle the introduction of black images on television. Indeed, black culture, fortified by the growing influence of sports and music in society, has dominated American culture for the past four decades. Culture is the forerunner of community, and it made Obama’s election possible. But now it is not just two main groups forming the new American consciousness. Now it is everybody poking their heads out of the screen while the remnant Bush economy gnaws at Americans and makes them chafe in anxious worry.
So on Univision yesterday I saw a HispanicLatina delegate from California arriving in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. Asked what she was expecting the convention to achieve, she responded that the main purpose was to showcase Mitt Romney’s intention to fix the economy. It is all about jobs, she said.
The problem with her response is that to fix the economy will take years. In the meantime, things that do not need to get to be fixed are going to get the attention of a Republican White House and a Republican Congress, should the GOP hold the House and achieve a majority in the Senate.
How many more anti-HispanicLatino measures will be passed then? How more diminished will be the rights of citizens to vote? How many HispanicLatino families will suffer when federal programs are devolved by Congress so that state governments – the same ones passing anti-HispanicLatino legislation – restructure the programs and exclude rather than include? How will government in the hands of these anti-government zealots ever make the investments needed to secure the future and defend the nation and take care of the elderly? How much further will HispanicLatinos be from community – an idea that depends on the larger vision of individuals and their individual ability to see the threads of a new future?
The delegate from California I am sure is a good person but she has few clues that the Republican convention is a different kind of community altogether. I hope she brought her birth certificate.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman and writes at HispanicLatino.com.
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