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.