Whenever America has a distasteful task that needs completing, it gives the job to Latinos. Whether it’s tarring roofs in summer, or washing windows on skyscrapers, or picking meat from crab shells, Latinos do the country’s dirty work without complaint.
Now that the United States faces another presidential election of lesser evils — a choice between the uninspiring and the unhinged — it is appropriate that America’s largest minority decide the outcome.
In fact, some white Democrats demand that a Latino columnist play the Pied Piper. One reader wrote me: “President Trump cares nothing for people of color. Please open your eyes and see what Trump is doing. For the love of America and democracy, turn out the vote to stop this fascism.”
But counting on Latinos to save the day is also a bit awkward. Decimated by COVID-19, left out of the national race dialogue and treated as an afterthought at the national conventions of both political parties, the year 2020 has already been pretty awful for my tribe.
Now we’re expected to decide a presidential election that we were largely excluded from. Imagine the humiliation of playing the understudy in this whole production when we expected the lead.
This was supposed to be The Latino Election. Even more so than 2016, which was supposed to be The Latino Election — but never was.
First, there are the numbers. This year, for the first time, Latinos represent the largest group of eligible nonwhite voters. As many as 15 million Latinos are expected to cast ballots. Just as importantly, nearly two-thirds of Latinos are Mexican or Mexican American, and they’re notorious swing voters who register as Democrats but are independent-minded enough to vote for Republicans that are to their liking.
Then, there is geography. The crucial battleground states that allegedly pick presidents aren’t limited to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They also include Florida, Arizona and Nevada, which are home to many Latino voters. Other too-close-to-call states include Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina, where much of the population growth over the past 20 years has been due to Latinos.
Finally, there’s Donald Trump. No matter who the Democrats nominated, this election was always going to be a referendum on him. So who better to decide the fate of the Demagogue-in-Chief than his favorite Boogeyman. Trump wouldn’t be president if he hadn’t convinced enough Americans in 2016 that Latinos were scary and dangerous and that he alone could protect white Americans from the Brown menace.
For all these reasons, Latinos were supposed to get top billing. Yet that never happened. Immigration is off the agenda, because neither Trump nor former Vice President Joe Biden seems eager to discuss it.
For his part, Biden never launched a ground game with Latinos. He was too busy trying to make peace with African Americans. The best Biden had to offer Latinos was to greet a gathering a few weeks ago by holding up a phone and playing Justin Bieber singing the Spanish-language love song “Despacito.”
Now, in the waning days of the election, Democrats are offering a fresh brand of cheese. Biden’s campaign has a new voter mobilization effort aimed at a group that hasn’t shown much love to him: Latino men. The initiative, headlined by Latino comedians who support Biden, is called “Los Luchadores” (The Fighters).
Wow. Stereotype much? I can’t wait for the press release from the official spokesperson: Speedy Gonzalez.
Not that you’re going to find any more respect — or any respect, for that matter — from the Trump campaign. That sorry bunch apparently missed the memo about how fearmongering over immigration fell flat for the GOP in the 2018 midterms. Team Trump is still running 1990s-style campaign ads showing grainy footage of Mexican immigrants scaling the border wall while the narrator ominously warns that Democrats are going to “give health benefits to illegal immigrants.”
Here’s a reality check: The Mexicans in the commercial aren’t after freebies. The only reason they’re in such a hurry to get over the wall is so they can apply for jobs that Americans won’t do.
For Latinos, some presidential elections — the ones where politicians schmooze for our votes — are like a warm bath. This one makes you want to take a shower.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.