A few weeks ago, during an appearance on CNN, a journalist who works for a conservative website said what many other political observers have been thinking: “Donald Trump is just not funny anymore.”
That is the popular meme that has been circulating throughout the media and the chattering class of pundits, analysts, and anyone else with an opinion and a burning desire to share it. I’ve heard it multiple times in the last several weeks, this idea that the Republican frontrunner is no longer as amusing and entertaining as he was a few months ago but has morphed into something divisive, demagogic, and dangerous.
I don’t know what planet these folks live on. But you can be sure that, wherever it is, there are no Latinos on it.
There are however scores of Latinos in the United States who—because of Trump’s boorish knack for insulting Mexico and Mexican immigrants, literally from the moment that he leapt off the starting blocks and announced his candidacy on June 16 — would say that Trump was never much fun to begin with.
We sure didn’t take much joy from his nativist swipes at Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail and crass insinuations that Bush is a moderate on immigration because his wife, Columba, was born in Mexico before coming to the United States legally and becoming a U.S. citizen. And while we would agree that the real estate mogul can be described as divisive, demagogic, and dangerous, many of us are wondering what took the rest of America so long to figure this out.
For much of the nation’s largest minority—the estimated 54 million people who make up the U.S. Latino population, less than 20 percent of whom have a favorable opinion of Trump, according to polls—the billionaire blowhard didn’t just become the GOP’s problem child overnight. The truth is that he has been that way since the moment he claimed, without a sliver of evidence to back it up, that Mexico was “sending” the United States its worst people—including rapists, murderers, and other criminals.
The media seem to have missed this part of the story. They know that Latinos don’t like Trump, but they don’t really understand just how deep this animosity goes or how long it is likely to last. They must think that Latinos will just eventually get over Trump’s tirades, which only illustrates how little they know about Latinos. When we hold grudges, we think in terms of centuries. So, in all likelihood, Latinos are going to be hating on Trump for a long time.
Let’s start at the beginning. For the first five months of his presidential bid, the real estate mogul was a novelty. This quality made him attractive to Republican primary voters and irresistible to a broadcast media that was starved for ratings and ad revenue. With the subtlety of an airstrike, Trump said what was on his mind, without a filter, consultants, or handlers. He didn’t use focus groups or rely on polling before making major pronouncements or suggesting radical shifts in policy. He ripped into both political parties with equal enthusiasm, and called out opponents by name. If there is some unwritten code of professional courtesy that keeps politicians from telling us how they really feel about one another, The Donald didn’t get a copy. In just about every way you could imagine, he was refreshing and even—dare we say it—fun.
In fact, as if to emphasize that point, the Huffington Post initially featured stories about Trump not in its “Politics” but in that portion of the site dedicated to “Entertainment.” It’s also worth noting that, with few exceptions, and with some early attempts to poke at Trump by repeating and amplifying some of his controversial remarks, the Fourth Estate has, for the most part, been on friendly terms with the presidential hopeful.
I remember the exact moment when this epiphany hit me. It was Nov. 12, and while on the road for a speech I was watching CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront. Trump was the guest, and the topic was immigration. The dialogue between host and guest was cordial, and Burnett—who was formerly a financial news reporter—kept referring to Trump by his first name. It was Donald this, and Donald that.
I have a tough time imagining Burnett or, for that matter, anyone else in the media casually referring to other 2016 presidential candidates as “Jeb” or “Hillary.”
Of course, Jeb and Hillary have proper honorific titles that Trump lacks, I know that. But how about going with: “Mr. Trump?” There’s a weird chumminess to it. For the New York media, much of their familiarity with Trump comes from the fact the real estate tycoon is, shall we say, “from the neighborhood.” His spectacular Manhattan penthouse atop Trump Tower is just a short limousine ride from some of the skyscrapers that house the major television networks.
Besides, it certainly didn’t hurt that—even for a Republican—Trump is considered by many to be a moderate on social issues. He also has a long history of contributing to and voting for Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton.
Whatever the reason, Trump spent the first five months of his presidential campaign gliding along on a magic carpet of friendly media coverage. He took care of the media, by being available at a moment’s notice when they called and by consistently delivering high ratings. And the media took care of The Donald by giving him tens of millions of dollars in earned media and handling him with kid gloves.
But then came the sixth month—December—when, after being atop dozens of polls for weeks on end, The Donald suddenly became less fun and more scary.
The tipping point came on the fateful day of Dec. 7. That’s when Trump shocked the country by calling for a temporary freeze on visas for Muslims seeking to enter the United States.
Just a few days earlier, a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, carried out by supporters of the Islamic State, had killed 14 people and wounded 22 others. Worried that elements of the U.S. Muslim community might be in cahoots with terrorists, Trump urged a moratorium on Muslims traveling to the United States until “our leaders figure out what the hell is going on.”
That’s a good question: What the hell is going on? Many Americans really want to know the answer to that question. And they agree with Trump that the Obama administration doesn’t have a clue about the enemy or how to fight it. And, in the absence of any serious and meaningful policy from the White House, Trump has filled the vacuum. In fact, according to the polls, a majority of people agree with the candidate’s proposed moratorium on Muslims getting visas. What sounds controversial to some strikes others as common sense.
But the media and the chattering class aren’t buying any of it. The proposal rubbed them the wrong way. They pounced on Trump immediately. Some insisted that he is a bigot. Others accused him of stoking fears and resorting to demagoguery in order to pick on people who don’t have a voice.
To which, Latinos can only wince and respond: “Gee, you don’t say?”