By Arnoldo Torres
Election day is less than one month from now and we have seen the ugliest, most divisive campaign for the Presidency of the United States in our time. Despite this behavior on the part of the candidates, political parties and voters, it is very possible political campaigns in this nation will get worse in the coming decades
A loss of trust, respect and even acceptance of our political process has been developing over the last thirty years if not longer. A slow but definitive malignancy of our democratic beliefs and tenets has transpired over this period of time. We seem to not believe in a system that requires us to engage, participate, and hold ourselves accountable for the choices we make in those we elect. It has become too easy to vote out of anger, resentment, fear and a disquieting sensitivity to our way of thinking. We have made matters worse with every election cycle and have created the situation where we vote for the candidate we consider the “lesser of two evils”, or the “least offensive”.
Despite the boisterous claims by many “Americans”, many have turned their backs on the very foundation on which this union was built. We have perfected the finger pointing towards “outside elements” to explain this behavior rather than recognizing that we are part of the problem. The policies so many complain about today did not happen over-night. They took decades of policies by Republicans and Democrats.
During this time and the unprecedented attacks on Latinos by a political party and its presidential candidate, Latinos have spent more time on the sidelines than becoming as engaged and participating at levels necessary to change the tone and direction.
We have known since the 1980’s that Latinos have consistent low voter registration and turnout in relation to those eligible to register and vote. But in the last eight years the English language media, Univision and Telemundo have painted a picture of Latinos being politically powerful and influential.
Despite how Latinos have been portrayed and targeted in this election, let’s look at the most recent PEW Research Center report of July 2016. It found that only 49% of Latinos were “absolutely certain” that they are registered to vote. This compares to 69% of blacks and 80% of whites. 67% of Latino voters said they have been following news about this election very or fairly closely while all other voters are at 85%. Another indicator is that 80% of voters say they have given a lot of thought to the election compared to 68% of Latinos.
In 2012 less than 50% of Latino eligible voters turned out to vote. However, 64.1% of whites and 6.6% of blacks voted. With very few exceptions Latino voters to date have consistently underperformed. Does the future look much better? Looking at Latino millennials cause great pause because in 2012 only 37.8% voted compared to 47.5% for whites and 55% for blacks. In 2012 only 50% of Latino millennials were registered to vote but 61% of whites and 64% of blacks were registered. Consider the fact that Latino millennials comprise 44% of eligible voters in our community for 2016 and look at the phenomenal low voter turnout in 2012.
This does not bode well for our community or this nation—the lack of civic engagement and failure to practice the tenets of democracy at such key times! If we are serious about the situations we complain about why aren’t all Latinos eligible to register to vote registered? Why aren’t all Latinos eligible to vote voting? Why aren’t Latinos holding accountable all elected officials regardless of color of skin and/or last name? There is no poll tax, language requirement, or English-only ballots!
Democracy, equal treatment and opportunity do not take place simply because they are words uttered and written by the founding fathers of this nation. The data above on Latino civic and political participation appears to underscore a major disconnect between our sacrifice in seeking a better life, and the essential work that we must pursue to realize a positive, vibrant and respectful political environment. In coming to the US so many Latinos placed their family life on hold while others lost their families, many sacrificed their education and professional standing to make a better life for themselves and their children. That was so much more difficult to accomplish than registering to vote, educating ourselves about the issues of importance, holding accountable those we elect.
On the eve of the 2016 elections too many “Americans” have given up and turned their backs on the democratic foundations of this nation. These “Americans” maintain their allegiance but fail to follow its spirit, its stated values and principals. They do not trust, respect or believe in this nation. We Latinos must demonstrate the courage, the work ethic that allowed us to reach this nation and have made it possible for us to survive during very difficult times. We must revitalize this nation by elevating the practice and belief in democracy. Let us practice what Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” This is the spirit that brought us here and allowed us to realize a better life.