The Veep Matters

I love Frank Bruni.  The columnist for The New York Times writes as to invoke envy.  He is smart.  He is creative.  I look forward to reading him.  But his column, published Saturday, July 3, while not wrong, was incomplete.  With the best of his writing, he dismisses the importance of whom Hillary Clinton selects to be her running mate.  Utterly inconsequential, he declares.

If you live in the context of Bruni’s world, you also would be wholly on point, correct and logical.  Except that other things are going on in the country that he and others under-appreciate.  I do not have to go too far to prove my point that perhaps major opinion-shapers like Bruni do not know it all.  The surprise Donald Trump sprung on the entire eastern establishment of writers and television experts of CNN, MSNBC, etc. and on seasoned political operatives more than suggests that perhaps the veep-pick-is-unimportant  view, too, is not altogether correct.

I remember, after Al Gore’s defeat in 2000, having lunch with the editorial page editor of a major eastern newspaper.  I proposed that I join his staff to write about Hispanic/Latino affairs.  A new demography, I said, led by Hispanic/Latino population growth, had taken hold of the country and would change it forever.  He listened politely but in the end said, and I quote:  I do not think that there would be enough to keep someone busy writing about Hispanics full-time.  By then, of course, a significant part of the Hispanic/Latino vote already had helped George W. Bush win.  Like so many pundits who dismiss the importance of the Hispanic/Latino vote, who do they think got Bush so close in Florida to win by 500 votes?

My meeting with this highly-placed and influential journalist was not as eye-opening as depressing.  He confirmed my view that some of the most provincial people live in our supposedly most cosmopolitan cities.  And they are not alone.

I met at the coffee shop of the Capitol Hilton not long after Gore’s defeat with a former member of Clinton’s Cabinet.  I told him that a national anti-Hispanic/Latino reaction would seize the country in one of the next few presidential cycles.  I explicitly said it would be in the vein of California’s Proposition 187 that in 1994 was aimed at immigrants but which everybody understood was specifically anti-Hispanic/Latino, and more specifically anti-Mexican and anti-Mexican-American.   I did not get very far with him.

And so, as much as I love Frank Bruni, he and others who should know better do not understand the whole picture. Part of what he does not understand – beyond the reading of the polls that show Hillary Clinton racking up significant support among Hispanic/Latino voters – is that there is also a new undercurrent of thought within the Hispanic/Latino community that is changing it.

A telling story about the roiled times we live in and how the Hispanic/Latino community is changing occurred in Miami a couple of years ago at a meeting of about 100 or so influential Hispanic/Latino leaders from throughout the country.

The meeting was called to discuss the future of the Hispanic/Latino population, and so the attendees were mostly of Mexican origin, but with a heavy Cuban host contingent.  The attendees were mostly businessmen and businesswomen, both Democratic and Republicans.  No elected officeholders nor the usual political consultants were present.  The conference was meant to think and reflect, not preen nor forage for business.  The environment lent itself to mature, calm exchanges.

The most salient moment for me was when a highly visible Cuban American stood and said to the mostly non-Cuban group:  “Now we understand what you are talking about.”  His reference was to legislation that Alabama and Georgia were then considering that was clearly aimed at Hispanic/Latinos.  A significant number of Cuban Americans live in Atlanta and, of course, the Cuban community’s representatives gather in the legislature in Tallahassee just down the road, not far from nearby Tampa.  They heard the confederate gunfire. The sheltered experience of Cuban Americans finally caught up with the rest of the Hispanic/Latino history in the country.

When these most Republican of Hispanic/Latino voters began to understand the threat Trump poses, they set the stage for something much more important and historic:  The unification of Hispanic/Latino groups and their increased participation in the civic life of the country.  And from that is coming a new kind of energy that can work on behalf of a ticket already destined to make history, especially if Hispanic/Latinos could see on the ballot a name like Becerra, Castro, Peña, Pérez or Salazar.

Polls surely are picking up how Hispanic/Latinos feel about Trump, but that is only part of the story.  I wrote in another blog that this moment is of existential importance for Hispanic/Latinos.

Whom Hillary selects is not utterly inconsequential to us.

Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.

Manzano So Much More than Navarrette

Where and how does one begin to make sense of what Ruben Navarrette wrote for CNN about Leo Manzano and, by extension, Hispanics/Latinos, be they recent immigrants or descendants from founders of some of the oldest cities in the nation?  To start off, the column Navarrette wrote lambasting the young Olympic runner for raising a Mexican and a U.S. flag to celebrate his silver medal in the 1500-meter race was not about Manzano.  It was about Navarrette.  The object of Navarrette’s anger was not Manzano’s alleged act of disloyalty but something about Navarrette that is not yet settled within his own self.

Navarrette admits as much in the column, which in a way is the most important he has ever written:  “Most Mexican-Americans I know would need a whole team of therapists to sort out their views on culture, national identity, ethnic pride and their relationship with Mother Mexico,” the 55-year-old Navarrette wrote.  And that is the problem.  The problem is not Manzano, who knows who he is and knows what he thinks and who is not going to back down from someone like Navarrette who has not figured himself out at his age and remains incomplete – like many Mexican-Americans and other HispanicLatinos.

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Eva Longoria and Clint Eastwood: Changing Drivers for America’s Future

A recent news report on CNN — followed immediately by a television commercial — put our current state of affairs in bas-relief.  The news report headlined Eva Longoria and Clint Eastwood.  Reporters captured Longoria, the beautifully young and erudite Hispanic or Latina actor most famous for her role in Desperate Housewives, attending a fundraising event for President Obama.  In stark and almost desperate contrast, observers recapped the aging Eastwood endorsing Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.  After the news anchor took the viewers to break, up popped a commercial for Cisco touting a computerized robotic arm that fixes broken computer production lines at a factory with not a human worker in sight.  The producers of the commercial dispensed with all body parts – not even a face.  Only a voice accompanied the ad.  Intended to be innocuous, the voice instead must cause viewers to conclude unsettlingly that American manufacturers will need fewer and fewer workers in the future.

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The Manchurian Candidate as the next Steve Jobs

The 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate was a great movie for the days when communism aimed to dominate the world.  The movie narrates the Chinese government’s attempt to take over the United States by subverting the mind of a solider who is the son of a would-be President of the country.  Chinese intelligence agents turn him into a political assassin bent on eradicating the opposition.  The film’s most iconic image is the crosshairs of his rifle.

The remake of the movie in 2004 was a flop.  That is about the only thing regarding anything Chinese that has flopped lately.  Fifty years after the original movie, the Chinese are closer than Mao ever imagined to global predominance.  And who would have thought back then that the United States would create its own Manchurian candidate by allowing its middle class to be hollowed out and by failing to develop a HispanicLatino population that daily is becoming a greater part of the nation’s population.

Experts disagree on how quickly China is going to develop into a superpower and “overtake” the United States.  If the question boils down to a debate about the wealth of the “average Chinese household” and the “average American household,” the United States wins.  The standard of living for individuals in the United States is higher – by many times over – than for individuals in China.  That is important until one considers that the Chinese number 1.3 billion and the United States 315 million.  A ratio of more than 4 to 1.

The numbers tell a more subversive story than any movie ever could: If only a third of China’s population achieves middle class status before its demographic growth levels off, that amounts to almost 400 million people – by far more than the current population of the United States, whose middle class currently is shrinking and whose HispanicLatino population makes the story more interesting more quickly.

Since 1970, the actual income of the average HispanicLatino household has decreased – this for a group whose proportion of the national population is increasing while the size of the rest of the white population is decreasing.  For a country the size of the United States to remain relevant, those lines should be trending upward, but two of the three are not.

Aside from the demographic drama being played out, the reason why China will overtake the United States in due course is that it will have more people doing more things and probably more people doing more things better.  The future of the world will also be decided by those with harder – not necessarily better – societal values, so that any population that does not have hard work, focus and attention as core values will suffer.

It leaves an impression on the mind, indeed, to walk by a college library – almost any library – late on Saturday nights and early on Sunday mornings.  Only Asian students from foreign lands are working and studying – with literally no one else around.  In the new world of absolutely maniacal global competition, the most absolutely maniacal workers will win.

Thinking that somewhere in a room off campus a Steve Jobs is inventing the next economic revolution is sadly simplistic and shortsighted.  We need scores of Steve Jobs – and those willing to sacrifice as he did throughout his life but certainly early in his career.

All of us – HispanicLatinos especially – are in the crosshairs of history, and we probably won’t get a shot at a remake.

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