Last night the first debate with the Republican presidential candidates took place, aired and hosted by FOX News. I wanted to watch most of it, initially tuning in about thirty minutes after the debate began. But as soon as my Salvadorena adopted mother heard Donald Trump’s attacks on Latino immigrants-a strategy that is sadly working for him and which he has doubled down on-all hell broke loose.
“What is this stupid man saying?”, she asked, increasing the volume to hear more clearly. To say she was less than pleased would be a gross understatement.
“Daniella change the channel, I am not going to listen to this fool now”. Immigration reform is a hot issue for Americans. Latino immigrants are part of the triad of boogeymen(violent Black Americans and fanatical Muslims being the other members) that emerge every four years to scare Americans into flocking to a particular party. So I understand why mi mami gets so red and flustered about immigration. For her it is more than the shallow words recycled by politicians; it is a life and struggle that she knows intimately. Out of respect for her, knowledge of what she has lived through and sensitivity to how triggering such language is for her I stop watching.
Around 7pm she leaves, and I switch back to FOX. If nothing else I want to be able to hear the candidates responses myself. This way I can be informed when I discuss it later with friends. The last hour was just surreal to me. I have fought to be more detached when it comes to American politics, to not take the antics of our political leaders and hopefuls so seriously. It is the only way I can consume political news and remain sane.
I know that it is a game. I know that the post-2008 strategy for candidates on the Right is to say and do what is needed to appeal to the most reactionary members of their party, then appeal to the center in the general election. I know that American elections always come down to Red versus Blue, that third-party candidates do not have a chance. I know that both major parties are more concerned with placating corporate interests over the interests of the American people. But I cannot pretend that the idealism of my youth has been extinguished altogether. There are brief moments where my apathy recedes and I wish it could be different. I think back to Bacon’s Rebellion, and dream of poor and middle-class Americans uniting based on their economic struggles. Yet I know it’s a foolish desire. The soap opera that we call politics shows we’d rather fight among each other like young children, convinced that the mysterious Other is the cause of all which ails us.