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Will Latino Leaders Effectively Address the Trump Challenge?

By Angelo Falcón

The NiLP Report (August 28, 2017)

The Arpaio pardon unleased an immediate torrent of outrages criticism among Latino leaders and many others. It was if they were surprised that Trump would stoop so low. But, one could wonder, why were they surprised? It has, after all, become apparent that Trump is consistently playing to his base, which doesn't include Latinos. The Arpaio pardon also may have had very little to do with Latinos and more to do with Trump sending a message to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller on the extent to which he is willing to go to protect himself. He is, literally, creating his own rules as President.

Trump is politically insulated in his daily dealings. While his approval ratings are extremely low and falling all the time, unfortunately his support among Republicans and others in his base seems to be holding steady. Since Latinos did not support him in his election and are among his biggest current detractors, we simply don't exist politically for Trump. This means that appeals to him to be more inclusive of Latinos in his administration and to lighten up on his immigration terrorism will fall on deaf ears. Latinos, in other words, cannot treat the Trump Presidency as though he or it were normal.

So, how should Latino leaders be addressing this Trump Challlenge? The questions and ideas below for doing so may give the impression that I think I have all the answers. The reality is that I have a couple of concrete ideas about what needs to be done, but mostly have questions that can potentially inform what I hope will be a more vigorous and long-overdue debate within the Latino community about them. My assumption is that there are some progressive master strategists out there in the Latino community who have yet to emerge.

It should also be noted that when I refer to Latino leaders, I do so in an expansive way to include grassroots and nonprofit activists and leaders, elected and appointed officials, religious and labor leaders, media advocates and so on at the national, state and local levels. I am also narrowly focused on politics at the national level, which is greatly affected by grassroots movements, but also has a structure and logic of its own. Who will eventually emerge as leaders in this fight within the Latino community is yet another question.

The Trump Latinos

Because of the abnormality of the Trump Presidency and its clear anti-Latino positions, those few Latinos in the Trump White House need to be treated as collaborators, as individuals who betray their community by working with the enemy, rather than as legitimate spokespersons of a rational President. The Spanish-language media needs to shun or minimize their presence and not legitimize them. I would say the same thing for the English-language media, but they generally do this naturally with all Latinos, no matter who is President! But if they do appear in English-language media, we need to counter their message immediately by making sure the media is held accountable to at least present the other side.

This is one reason why the Javier Palomarez case becomes symbolically significant. As a continuing and most high profile Latino member of Trump's Diversity Council, he argues that he somehow wants to be on the inside to influence Trump on matters Latino. Besides the fact that this Diversity Council is just Trumpian window dressing, the Arpaio pardon is proof that there is no influencing Trump outside of his small circle. Palomarez's pulling out of the Trump Diversity Council will only reinforce the reality that Latinos are only a convenient wedge issue for Trump, dispelling the illusion that it is anything more than this.

Palomarez, as the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, represents an important sector of the Latino community. However, as we have seen with the criticism for his Trump ties that he has received within his own organization, several California chapters, he is apparently not being representative of the Latino business community. He, for example, has been criticized by the New York Chamber and others for being too corporate-oriented and, as a result, ignoring the needs of the Latino small businesses that make up the bulk of his membership. One would think that Palomarez would be more concerned with responding to the needs of his members than pursuing some illusionary path to national power via Trump. He may be currently equating the publicity he is getting with power, but most of us have gotten to know better.

Rethinking Current Advocacy Approaches

If it makes more sense to pursue a strategy of withdrawal and resistance, what should the Latino leadership be doing at this moment while the grassroots are out protesting and mobilizing? It appears that there is an urgent need to totally rethink current approaches to advocacy that have been designed to work with normal Presidents. Rather than give the impression that Trump can be influenced by Latinos, the need is to develop a strong capacity to consistently and very publicly expose his anti-Latino policies and actions. Meetings with Trump and Trump-appointed officials and sending letters recommending or opposing policies are clearly a waste of time in impacting on his decision-making and are only useful in documenting his abuses of power.

Critical Role of Latino Defense Funds

An increasingly indispensable component of the resistance at this point is the role that our Latino legal defense funds could be playing in closely monitoring Trump policies and illegal practices regarding not only immigration but other issues as well. We have seen how the ACLU has effectively stepped up and has attracted a major influx of donations to do so. The same has to happen with MALDEF and Latino Justice PRLDEF, but they also need to project a broader agenda that can inspire our community, foundations, and donors to substantially increase their support. Perhaps the ACLU can play a role in working more closely with LatinoJustice and MALDEF, all three organizations, after all, are headed by Latinos.

The 2018 and 2020 Elections

The focus also needs to be in future elections: 2018 and 2020, Next year's Congressional and some state legislative races are going to be tough, but it will be important to shore up progressive and Latino representation as much as possible. This means promoting more progressive Latino candidates for office as well as taking out conservative office holders. For 2020 this means being a real part of a process of identifying who the Democratic Party Presidential contenders will be. Are Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders already locked in? Which are some other possibilities that we should be considering from a Latino perspective? Latino leaders need to develop a mechanism for actively addressing this problem. Can the Latino Victory Project expand and open up sufficiently to be such a vehicle?

The Political Parties and Congress

This brings us to the Democratic Party. While the general Latino lament is that the Democrats take the Latino vote for granted, the idea of moving to a third party is, unfortunately, just an idea. If Bernie Sanders ever launches his Peoples Party, perhaps this could be a viable alternative, but up to now Sanders has been mainly operating within the Democratic Party. Electorally, this leaves the Democratic Party as the primary vehicle through which to resist Trump electorally and develop an alternative progressive policy agenda. Unfortunately, Tom Perez, the first Latino chair of the party, has not been particularly inspirational on this score. And then there is the great cynicism that exists about the party that exists in the Latino community that may be hard to overcome.

There is also the need to develop better ways of educating and holding the dealing with a Republican-controlled Congress would be difficult generally, but this is especially a problem with a Trump-Republican Congress. However, one hopes that the Republican political infatuation with Trump will start to crumble, creating some opening to work with more moderate Republicans. Also, although Democrats are in the minority they are not totally without influence and need to be pushed to support more progressive policies and not simply become the new Party-of-No.

The current approach of most of the national Latino organizations of issuing press releases, letters of support or opposition, holding press conferences are fine but not sufficient. Many of the national Latino organizations need to go beyond these simple tools and take lessons from conservative outfits like the Heritage Foundation. Their large policy staff is mostly made up of journalists, and they have a very sophisticated system of getting their policy positions to and holding briefings with not only the Congress members but also, and maybe more importantly, their key staff. They make it a priority to affect the direction of national policy debates using a series of tools. For example, while the Heritage Foundation sponsors a series of lectures and conference that attract national attention, you will notice that the Latino organizations seldom do this.

Latino leaders, it seems, need to develop concrete strategies for holding the Democratic Party much more accountable to their community. How are the Democrats developing new Latino leadership within the party? Are they concretely develop and promote progressive Latino candidates for office at all levels? Will they be significantly increasing resources to Latino voter education and recruitment? Will they be doing a better job of supporting grassroots Latino community involvement in the upcoming redistricting process by providing technical training, resources for community organizing and necessary legal and technical expertise and equipment?

Need to Reorganize Advocacy

All of this will require a fundamental reimagining of the current way the Latino community is organized to advocate for its needs. This is clearly not something that can be accomplished through the current structures and relationships we currently have in place, or through organizational name changes. It is also not something that can be accomplished through one item in a business meeting or through a one-hour conference call. It is certainly not possible through the various conferences of the national Latino organizations that have become more like self-celebratory exercises those largely corporate donor exhibitions rather than the community organizing gatherings that they were original. The national efforts at coalition-building in the Latino community largely result in a superficial interaction among these organizations, as well as the rise of competing coalitions. A good example is a division between the coalition of mainstream national Latino groups, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, and its more left-leaning rival, the National Latino Congreso. While there is some overlap between them, it is also apparent that each talk past each other.

There is also the question of the role of Latino labor and religious leaders and how to incorporate them into such a movement. How to overcome the AFL-CIO - SEIU division? How to overcome the activist Evangelical - less activist Catholic divide? I don't know but think the question should at least be posed: Is there a way to bring all of these groups and sectors together in new and more effective longterm coalitions?

There is also the continuing call for our leadership to become much more militant and outspoken. This would require leaders who are more mobile and who cn organize more high-profile mobilizations and actions that can motivate more and more memebrs of the Latino community to be involved and debate the issues. It looks like the Trump Challenge has raised the political consciousness of more Latinos and other Americans than ever before. How can this new political energy and curiousity be mobilized in new ways?

Bringing Puerto Rico In

There is also the tricky issue of how to include Puerto Rico, which housed some 3.4 million Latinos who are U.S. citizens and who destiny in fully in the hands of the U.S. Congress. It would seem obvious that Puerto Rico's grassroots movements and even the Government of Puerto Rico need to be part of a greater Latino coalition under a Trump Presidency. But with the current Puerto Rico government obsessed with promoting the highly-divisive issue of statehood, this greatly complicates its role. Although the Island's political parties who are out of power can be playing a more active role stateside. Nonetheless, the issue of Puerto Rico's economic crisis needs to be better incorporated into the signage agenda of the broader Latino leadership.

Holding Philanthropy Accountable

As I have argued before, all of this requires much greater resources than these organizations have today, given the growth and size of the Latino population. While there are a general criticism and some studies that have documented the lack of foundation and corporate support of Latino advocacy organizations, these organizations generally seem to see the education of these sectors as something done by individual organizations that make a case for how they can address all the issues outlined above. However, there is a need for a new approach in which Latino organizations collectively come together to hold philanthropy accountable.

Will the current or a new Latino leadership be up to seriously address the Trump Challenge? We will know on November 11, 2020 (if not the evening before!).

Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), for which he edits and publishes The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics. He can be reached at afalcon@latinopolicy.org. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy. For further information, visit www.latinopolicy. org. Send comments to editor@latinopolicy.org.