Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Last week Mayra Flores, a naturalized citizen born in Mexico, won outright a special election in Texas’ 34th Congressional District in the Rio Grande Valley, a Democrat redoubt since 1870. A Republican conservative and mother of four, Flores ran on “God, family, and country,” and self-identifies as pro-life and a supporter of tougher border controls. Flores is heading to Washington to be the first House Representative born in Mexico.
This victory is yet another portent of doom for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. They already are facing headwinds like soaring murder rates, record inflation, and astronomic gas prices––all the consequences of progressive policies like bail and sentencing “reform” and lax leftwing DAs, more fiat money pumped into the economy, and the disastrous war on fossil fuels that has significantly reduced domestic production even as global supplies have been squeezed by sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile the anti-American “woke” are intensifying their culture war on several fronts, from unrestricted abortion and transgender curricula in public schools, to pronoun etiquette and “cancel culture” and other violations of the Second Amendment.
Unsurprisingly, Joe Biden’s average disapproval rate is 54.7%, while the Republicans have been leading the Congressional generic ballot by 3 points since the first of the year. Remember, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had positive approval ratings and still lost the House of Representatives in midterm elections.
Given these obstacles, the Democrats can’t afford to lose any support from Latinos, who now comprise 18.7% of the U.S. population. Yet Dems for decades have ignored the diversity of everyday Latinos on a number of issues––such as the economy, patriotism, faith, border security, crime, and social issues such as transgenderism and same-sex marriage––and have alienated them and driven many to the GOP.
Both parties, however, for decades have been reducing Latinos to simplistic stereotypes and unexamined assumptions. Spooked by Democrat theories that an aging white population would eventually be swamped by Latino Democrats, some Republicans began going soft on controlling the southern border and deporting illegal aliens, in order to show Latinos that they aren’t the racist monsters of Democrat attack ads and establishment media caricatures. These Republicans warned that rhetoric criticizing illegal aliens was counterproductive and “insensitive,” if not racist, as well as alienating Latino voters.
But the assumption that criticizing unvetted illegal aliens from Mexico would anger Latino voters was dubious. After all, many Latinos have to live with the crime, drug-dealing, and disorder criminal illegals bring to their neighborhoods. Nor are many happy about flooding the economy with cheap labor.
In 2013, such nuances of true diversity didn’t stop four Republicans on the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” from going along with a “comprehensive” immigration bill that set a low bar for illegal aliens to become citizens, without first securing the border and adopting stringent metrics for vetting those on the “path to citizenship.” Fourteen Republican Senators voted for the bill, which passed the Senate but died in the Republican-controlled House.
Democrats have been even more oblivious to the diversity of Latino voters, which is why they were caught by surprise when Donald Trump in 2020 increased his share of the Latino vote from 2016, despite the incessant demonization of him as a “racist” and a xenophobe. What Donald Trump exposed was the dishonesty of the identity-politics industry and its neglect of problems afflicting some minorities, such as the pedagogical malfeasance to which many of their children are subjected. He delivered on practical policies like improving the economy, increasing productivity, and creating jobs––all while cognitive elite Democrats accused him of “racism” and nativism.
In short, Trump exploded the Dems’ assumptions that like all identity-politics factions, Latinos are homogenous in their political preferences on various issues like illegal immigration. In other words, for Dems they are politically fungible. They all are “people of color” and victims of “white racism” who need the Leviathan nanny-state to take them in hand and, in exchange for their votes, ply them with resources redistributed from other citizens. And they share the same opinions on issues like abortion or transgenderism that all POC, college educated cognitive elites do.
But terms like “Hispanic” that describe millions of people obscure the true diversity of all human ethnicities and their cultures, customs, and mores. As well as being simplistic, these assumptions do not take into account that any demographic cohort changes over time, as most immigrants increasingly assimilate to the majority culture. They become better educated, and get better and more prestigious jobs. They also begin to have more in common with their neighbors or colleagues at work, including political preferences, than they do with others of the same ethnicity.
A recent Mexican-Indian immigrant from Oaxaca, for example, who picks grapes or washes dishes, has little in common with a fourth-generation Mexican-American who speaks little if any Spanish and works for a corporation or teaches school. And both certainly have little cultural affinity with a Caucasian Cuban lawyer. But to Dems, they’re all “Hispanics.”
This process of assimilation, despite having been attacked and demonized for decades, has remained the pattern of most immigrant’s lives for over a century. I witnessed it first-hand. I went to a rural grammar school with a majority of Mexican-American kids, most second- generation immigrants. Their parents were farm-workers and construction workers, and ranged from working class to working poor. Their first language was Spanish, and they retained their Catholic faith and much of the folk culture of Mexico.
At California State University in Fresno, during the course of my teaching career more and more Latinos comprised the student body. Today over half the students are Latino, most of them second, third, and fourth generation. The latter are very similar to other ethnicities, including Anglos––they dress pretty much the same, listen to the same music, stream the same movies, spend time on the same social media, and play the same video games online. Only a handful of my students showed signs of the “woke” sensibility. There were few protests and little political agitation, since most of the students were more concerned with graduating and getting a good job rather than the revolutionary political activism that is a luxury of the affluent of all ethnicities.
This reality of diversity and identity––based not on the superficial physical traits of Darwinian racism, and the dubious “cultural differences” of multiculturalism, but on socio-economic class, popular culture, and consumerism––was pointed out nearly 30 years ago by UCLA historian Russell Jacoby:
The issue is how different these “cultures” are from each other and the dominant American culture. Do they constitute distinct structures of work, living, and beliefs? In their dress, activities, religion, and desires these cultures are becoming more alike. Only in the current ideological climate is this news or heresy . . . America’s multiple cultures exist within a single consumer society. Professional sports, Hollywood movies, automobiles, designer clothes, namebrand sneakers, television and videos, commercial music and CDs: these pervade America’s multiculturalism . . . The multiple cultures define themselves by their preferences within a consumer society, not by a rejection of it.
Today I would add “wokeness” as a common identity signifier that transcends ethnicity, and a fashion that signals to others one’s greater sophistication and virtue.
The overbroad generalizations of identify politics that are based on superficial characteristics and ignore individual differences are illiberal and reductive, the opposite of true diversity, which is much more complex and layered. But treating an ethnic cohort as homogeneous has been useful for progressives and their cognitive elite “people of color” who leverage the problems of their less privileged and less affluent ethnic fellows into more privilege and power for themselves.
The coming red tsunami in part reflects a critical number of Latino voters who are sick of the “woke” cognitive elites and their condescending arrogance. Maybe Democrats should start listening to what the voters want instead of imposing on them what their rich and credentialed “woke” elites think they need.