If there’s one thing we can take away from the he-said, she-said nature of Democratic candidates claiming to have won the Latino vote in Nevada, it’s that no one was the clear victor. And as the primary season continues, the stakes will get higher and the rhetoric will intensify.
So what are Latinos looking for in this presidential election? That’s simple: We are looking for a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump.
Trump ascended to the top of the polls for the Republican nomination just as the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. And though his venom has been primarily aimed at Mexicans and Muslims, the LGBT community as a whole should take notice of the threat he poses. We not only need to defeat his bid for president, we need to overcome what he stands for. As the jokes get serious, the biggest threat Trump poses isn't simply his candidacy, it is what he is activating in this country.
The path to “Make America Great Again” is one paved in fear, cynicism, and frustration. It is a direct reaction, and foreshadows a tsunami of backlash, to the cultural change that has taken place in this country. It is the consequence of long-standing policies that have exacerbated economic inequality to the breaking point. It reverts to our nation’s shameful history of defaulting to racism and xenophobia when it is time to find someone to blame.
But attributing Trump’s success to his extremist platform is a flat analysis that doesn't capture the nuance of reality. Trump is a billionaire who campaigns with the urgency of someone who is broke. Where I see bloated arrogance every time he speaks, others see the type of confidence required to make the hard calls and “shake things up” in Washington. He is an outlier candidate, demonstrating independence from Beltway politics at precisely the moment when the electorate demands it. His wealth and celebrity have insulated him from the perception that he is a bought-and-sold politician.
The murky result of Nevada’s Democratic caucus illustrates a nerve-racking reality: Latinos are not sure which candidate is actually capable of defeating Donald Trump.
And that is where it gets complicated.
Despite the fact that Latinos deeply want to defeat Trump, there is a clear and present ambivalence toward the Democrats.
Come election time, Latinos are used to getting our doors knocked, our mailboxes stuffed, and our TVs blasting messages of Si Se Puede! ("Yes We Can"). But many in our community, including LGBT Latinos, have come to understand that the uplifting message comes with small print: Yes We Can — but not right now.
As LGBT Latinos, we are once again made to choose between our interests as an ethnic group and our identity as LGBT people. We see the inherent threat in the politics of Donald Trump and the GOP. But President Obama is just as much remembered as the “deporter in chief” as he is the president who “evolved” on marriage equality. His achievements securing greater equality for LGBT Americans have come with a litany of broken promises and concessions made on our backs that we are not quick to forget. Like the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Many of the life-and-death issues Latino LGBT people advocate for — HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention, the crisis of violence against transgender women, and the criminalization and incarceration of LGBT people in prisons and detention centers, to name a few — often don't make it to the top tier of policy demands. A campaign promise is simply not enough for those of us who are ill, poor, criminalized, or caged. Because of that, many in our community are less invested in getting out the vote, instead focusing on getting our people out (of detention).
The candidate capable of defeating Trump and what he stands for isn't the one with a steady hand that will deliver business as usual. Rather, the antidote to Trump will be a leader who campaigns with an urgency that matches Trump’s but does him one better by acting with courage. Qualities that matter — to LGBT Latino voters and anyone invested in achieving a more perfect union — are authenticity, consistency, and trustworthiness. We need a candidate who can communicate a bold vision that connects us to and with a country that is changing rapidly and grappling with that change.
Change is already happening, and there’s no holding back the tide. Unfortunately, this year’s electoral choice falls between a Republican Party that seeks to stifle change by racing backward, threatening to push us to the bottom, or a Democratic candidate who, frankly, may not fully understand that change, accept only a sliver it, or try to manage that upheaval in the interests of the status quo.
Pero todavía tenemos esperanza — but still, we have hope. Vibrant social movements that seek LGBT liberation, racial justice, an end to mass incarceration, a stop to deportations, economic security, and a healthy planet are a source of new solutions and new leaders that can help us navigate this brave new world. Without these social movements, we will not overcome the partisan politics that have consumed our reality. Beyond the candidates, the story of this election lies in how Americans will react to change, and how social movements can shape the debate itself.
We need that candidate who will turn back the politics of Trump just as deeply as we need social movements that generate change that's not dependent on this broken system. We need an alternative — we need something new to believe in.
Perhaps the time has come for us to believe in ourselves.
Marisa Franco is the director and co-founder of Mijente, a political home for radical Latina/os and Chicana/os. She also helps lead the #Not1More Deportation campaign and is based in Phoenix, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter at @marisa_franco.