Thursday, February 25, 2016

February 25, 2016--Jose the Fanatic

Of the many startling things about Donald TRUMP's decisive victory in Wednesday's Nevada caucuses, beyond the fact that there was an historic turnout and he garnered more votes that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined, was the fact that he also won easily among Latinos.

So much of both parties' campaigns is challenging conventional wisdom--that to win one needs a powerful, big-data-directed ground game (TRUMP has won three of four primaries and caucuses with hardly any ground game at all); that it's all about who can raise the most money (Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz did and look what happened to them--TRUMP raised hardly any, spent even less, and look who's leading); that Americans won't vote for a socialist (Bernie Sanders take note); and Latino voters overwhelmingly vote for Latino candidates (ask Rubio and Cruz about that) the same way blacks tend to vote for blacks, Jews for Jews, and so on.

In Nevada, TRUMP ran away with 45 percent of the Hispanic vote. Note, in 2000, George W. Bush was elected largely as the result of appealing successfully to Latino voters--he got an historic 40 percent nationally.

So TRUMP, who pretty much everyone having access to a microphone said would be lucky to get 10 percent of the Hispanic-American vote considering how he castigated illegal immigrants (mainly, to him, Mexicans) defaming them by labeling them "murderers" and "rapists" and promising that he would deport 12 million, that Donald TRUMP thus far, especially with the Latino-rich voters of Nevada, has run the table. How it might translate to the general election is for the moment another matter.

But his "appeal" to Hispanic voters is worth some thought. Why would any vote for him?

For insight I am reminded of one of my favorite Philip Roth stories--"Eli the Fanatic."

It is also one of his most overlooked, perhaps because of the direct way in which it deals with and excoriates secularized, seemingly-assimilated Jews.

Set in suburban America, it concerns a non-observant Jew, lawyer Eli Peck, who is hired by his Jewish neighbors to convince a recently-arirved group of orthodox Jews to close the yeshiva they established in their midst. The other Jews in town are embarrassed by the visible presence of these Hasids, fearing they will call attention to them and thereby interfere with their desire to blend in among the largely gentile residents of Woodenton.

To make a short story short, Eli fails in his attempts to get the ultra-orthodox to back off, including abandoning their traditional ways of dressing, and, after an epiphany of his own, gives up his normal wardrobe and appears before his stunned and outraged Jewish neighbors in Hasid garb, thereby exposing the ethnic roots of all of them.

Could it be that TRUMP's appeal to a large and growing percentage of Latino voters is because increasing numbers counter-intuitively support his views about illegal immigrants--that many favor building the wall and deporting those here without proper documents?

As in Roth's Woodenton, those Hispanics in the United States for decades and for others in the Southwest for many centuries, from even before Europeans landed at Plymouth Rock, for Latino citizens, for Hispanics who are comfortably "Americanized," having so many other Hispanics here illegally threatens their sense of relatively unobtrusive assimilation.

For Roth's secularized, well-educated, and affluent Jews, having Hasids in their midst, they feared, exposed them to their Christian neighbors who would not distinguish between them and the ultra-orthodox. Seeing them both in the same light and thus out of step with American culture, still rooted in Eastern European beliefs and superstitions, and wanting to live and cling together in self-imposed ghettos.

Perhaps the United States' most successful and assimilated Latinos, who are not self-hating, have some of the same kinds of feelings and support TRUMP as one way of declaring loyalty to the great American immigrant narrative, not wanting their place in society to be confused and conflated with those who came here illegally and live insufficiently in the shadows.

Philip Roth

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