Trumpism and the browning of Arizona’s blue wave

November 14, 2018 2:11 pm

President Donald Trump at a campaign rally for Republican Martha McSally’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in Mesa on Oct. 19, 2018. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Welcome to the quiet revolution.

I’m talking about the seismic, but comparatively plodding, political revolt underway in my adopted home of Arizona.

Not that I’m that much of a newcomer. I came here in 1999, which in Arizona years makes me a virtual native at least twice over. So, I’ve been here long enough to appreciate the ebbs and flows of our state’s steady but creeping progressivism.

“Progressive creep” in Goldwater country?!

Let me say up front, while I agree the country is now waist deep in a blue wave, I believe Arizona’s political watershed is the product of two key underlying forces: outright GOP arrogance, fueled by strong strains of bigotry, greed and faux evangelicalism; and the explosive growth of the Latino population and its influence on a boom in tech-age grassroots activism.

Layered on top of that, of course, is today’s inspired, broad-based, patriotic (versus nationalist) rebuke of Trumpism led by women, people of color, millennials and basically anyone with a scintilla of human decency and a rudimentary understanding of what it truly means to live in a pluralistic liberal democracy.

Then there’s President Trump: the worst imaginable manifestation of Anglo-centric, Republican arrogance come home to roost. The GOP didn’t invent Trump, but it certainly laid the groundwork for his ascension.

Arizona Republicans bear part of the blame Trumpism, thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 1070 in 2010, which sparked hundreds of copycat bills nationwide and Trump’s embrace of ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio and SB1070 co-author and all-around voter-suppressor Kris Kobach.

Kobach, who lost a bid for Kansas governor last week, led Trump’s now-disbanded voting fraud commission. The panel was convened to investigate the origin of what Trump claimed in 2016 were millions of illegal voters he said had to be undocumented immigrants. Alas, there was no mass fraud or secret electoral caravan of hyper-civic immigrants.

The GOP’s fatal error came in the wake of the Republicans’ 2012 post-election autopsy – the Growth and Opportunity Project report – which, according to the Washington Post, urged the party to “embrace a more voter-friendly, practical appeal to problem-solving, with an emphasis on upward mobility”, and comprehensive immigration reform.

In short, the report called for a kinder, gentler and more inclusive GOP. The GOP didn’t listen – to itself.

Instead, the party veered hard right by doubling down against all things Obama and all people immigrant. In 2013, Republicans had one last chance to check itself before driving off the Cliff of Xenophobia – near the Path to Utter Oblivion – when our very own Sen. John McCain and then Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his Gang of Eight passed a flawed, but functional, immigration bill.

In a foreshadowing of days to come, all five Senate Republican leaders, including now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted against the bill, as did the hard right in the House, signaling to Trump and his ilk that foreigners, brown people and minorities in general were now fair game.

What Trump and the Republicans who eventually handed him their party didn’t bank on was reality. Namely, the not-alternative-fact that the country’s collective makeup is shifting under our feet and, for those who pay attention, right before our eyes.

In Arizona, the starkest evidence of that has been the tripling of the Latino population since 1990 from about 700,000 to nearly 2.1 million. It doesn’t take a demographic genius to get how that changes everything. Senate President Russell Pearce got it, got mad about it, and tried to stop it with a red storm of legislation that culminated in SB1070 and ended with his recall from office in 2011. Even for Arizona, Pearce had gone too far. Nationally, the GOP didn’t take the hint.

The Latino population boom nationwide – there are now 59 million Hispanics in the U.S. – helped stock the ranks of leadership and foot soldiers of more than a dozen major people-powered grassroots groups across the state, including the organizations umbrellaed under the One Arizona coalition. (Full disclosure, I’ve done communications and media outreach for a One Arizona member, Promise Arizona, over the years.)

If you don’t think these grassroots groups wield real power, consider the success of LUCHA (Living United for Change in Arizona) and the group’s leadership in passing an increase to the minimum wage at the ballot in 2016. And since 2010, hundreds of thousands of new voters, mostly brown, young and female, have been registered by One Arizona and its allies.

Anyone who thinks Latino voters didn’t play a major role in the election of U.S. Sen.-Elect Kyrsten Sinema and Superintendent of Public Instruction-Elect Kathy Hoffman, and a slew of new Latino elected officials across the state in recent years (not to mention the neck-and-neck race for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Steve Gaynor), is living under a rock.

The great irony of Trump’s fake Make America Great Again crusade is that it’s accelerated, rather than stymied, the growth of progressive politics both in Arizona and nationwide.

Arizona is still a conservative, if somewhat purplish, stronghold. The re-election of our governor, attorney general, four Republican congresspeople and control of the Legislature are evidence of that. But the browning of our state, the backlash against Trumpism, the rise of women in politics and the multiculturalism of millennials promises what the GOP autopsy failed to delivered: a kinder, gentler and more inclusive Arizona.

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James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of a major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught creative and non-fiction writing, ethnic studies, theater, literature and Latino politics at ASU. The founder and producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co., James is the author of more than 30 plays, including the upcoming “The Two Souls of Cesar Chavez.”