COMMENTARY: State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado is “willing to bet that your quality of life has improved dramatically since Donald Trump took office.” That’s because, the Los Lunas Republican wrote in a recent Albuquerque Journal guest editorial, “nearly 6 million” new jobs have been created during Trump’s tenure and Latinos filled 2.4 million of them.
Baldonado doesn’t mention a single Trump action that led to more jobs. But in calling complaints about Trump a Democratic Party “fear-mongering farce” he claims, incredibly, that Hispanic Americans “are thriving like never before under President Trump’s leadership.”
He’s right that the economy has added millions of jobs since Trump took office. It added even more during the same time period at the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency. The economy has been on the upswing through both presidencies, consistently driving down unemployment.
But should having a job make up for all the chaos, destruction and death Trump has inflicted on our nation? As a small business owner, the GOP tax bill Trump signed into law, which has benefited me economically, is probably the equivalent to a job for others. Following Baldonado’s logic, Latinos, and I assume people like me who have multi-ethnic families, should be grateful Trump supporters if our finances have improved.
But the American Dream is about so much more than money. In addition to opportunity as a reward for hard work, it’s about democracy, civil rights, freedom and equality.
Trump threatens all of that, putting at risk the republic in which my Latina girlfriend and I are raising two multi-ethnic daughters. In the past couple of weeks alone, as he’s faced the possibility of impeachment, Trump has threatened a whistleblower and a congressman, which are arguably additional offenses worthy of impeachment. He’s fanned the flames of a second civil war. He’s basically attacking everyone who puts his job at risk.
But I’ll focus for a moment on the question Baldonado asks about whether quality of life has “improved dramatically” for my family and me under Trump. Unequivocally, the answer is no.
Because of Trump’s words and actions — threatening a total Muslim ban, partially enacting it, cracking down cruelly on Latin American immigrants — my daughter fears that some of her darker-skinned relatives and friends could be kicked out of the United States and she might not see them again. This is not illogical. She fears what the white nationalists who have infiltrated our government are trying to make reality. Trump, who reportedly sought to build a moat filled with snakes or alligators along the border and shoot migrants in the legs, is a real threat to people in my daughter’s life.
I fear for my loved ones’ safety after a white supremacist terrorist killed 22 people at a Walmart in nearby El Paso — a Walmart that looks just like the shopping centers we frequent in Las Cruces. That terrorist came for people who look like my girlfriend and our daughters, using the same violence-inciting rhetoric Trump spews for political gain.
Trump has encouraged violence against journalists like me. Doing my job is more dangerous and frightening than it’s been in the past.
Immigration enforcement agencies have clamped down on the borderlands in a way that makes their presence more ominous and frightening. While the president hints at civil war, we are surrounded by militarized checkpoints he controls.
It’s become more difficult to have the sort of respectful, bridge-building conversations I have worked to foster throughout my career. Trump has fueled the fighting in a way that’s unprecedented in my lifetime. The example he sets is counter to everything I believe about how people should treat each other.
There’s a second problem with Baldonado’s argument: Another integral part of the American Dream is a sense of belonging. It’s community. It’s neighbors and people who help each other in times of need.
It’s nativist and selfish to imply that if you have a job, none of the trauma Trump is inflicting on others should matter.
But it isn’t surprising. Trump’s narcissism has consumed the Republican Party, whose leaders almost uniformly back the president in defiance of the values their party once espoused — values many of them still hear preached on Sundays.
I often disagreed with the politics I encountered during the 13 years I spent in evangelical churches, but I found common ground with a belief in showing concern for others and helping people in need. George W. Bush and others called it compassionate conservatism.
In this case, Baldonado’s argument encourages people to turn a blind eye to atrocities. Never mind that Trump’s administration has intentionally traumatized migrant children. Do you have a job? Then who cares!
He mistreats women? He’s spending like there’s no tomorrow? He’s using the federal government to promote his re-election and make money? He’s conspiring with foreign governments to influence the next election? He’s eroding democratic and constitutional protections? Do you have a job? Then who cares!
The white evangelicals who are largely responsible for Trump’s election hammer liberals for immorality and corruption. The GOP does the same to Democrats. It takes a helluva lot of mental gymnastics — and a generations-old ability to dehumanize other people to dull the pain of your own horrific actions — to not see the hypocrisy clearly, to go on the offense over God and guns while the president you’re supporting commits all the sins your God warns against.
Trump lays bare the sins our society has long tried to bury in a way that reignites tension and conflict. The Americans, and the Spaniards before them, dehumanized Native Americans and Africans to justify genocide and slavery. The Declaration of Independence calls Natives “savages.” Today our president talks about people of color infesting the United States as though they’re insects or parasites. He even referred to several House Democrats as savages a few days ago. Too many of his supporters go along with it.
Our political system spends countless dollars dehumanizing people to divide us. Corporate America sorts and counts us and pushes us to justify our existences based only on productivity. There are so many forces pushing us to think the way Trump does, the way Baldonado encourages. I reject them all.
I choose community and empathy. I will not sacrifice those values. I wouldn’t vote for Trump under any circumstances. Because I live in community with people around me in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the United States, across the border in Mexico, and beyond. Because I care about the people we’re harming and the planet we’re altering. Because no amount of money would get me to actively support Trump or stand silently on the sidelines while white supremacists infiltrate our government and work to replace our nation with a fascist, homogenous state.
I know conservatives who are fighting for what’s right instead of giving in to Trump’s bullying. Some evangelical churches have sheltered the very asylum-seeking migrants Trump wants to feed to alligators. There are still some prominent Republicans speaking out against the madness, and I’m grateful for their courage.
But the voices of those few —U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Ohio’s governor, a state lawmaker in Nebraska, a former GOP congressman who’s running against Trump — are drowned out by politicians like Rep. Baldonado and the white supremacists standing beside him in supporting Trump, people who are acting out Trump’s words by injuring and killing folks in Charlottesville, El Paso and elsewhere.
The Republican Party I once respected is dead. Cruelty is its core identity today. People like Baldonado who hitch themselves to the Trump train are complicit in his atrocities.