Andres Oppenheimer

Trump has “Latin Americanized” U.S. politics

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Springfield, Ohio.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Springfield, Ohio. AP

I have seen many U.S. elections since I arrived in the United States four decades ago, but this is the only one that has polarized the country to the point of ending long-time friendships and straining family ties.

For the first time, this feels like an election in a populist Latin American country. Much like we have seen in Venezuela, Ecuador and other populist-ruled countries in the region, a narcissistic demagogue — Donald J. Trump — is enchanting the masses with a hate-filled rhetoric blaming foreigners for his country’s problems, and claiming that the election is rigged if he doesn’t win.

Until now, political civility was a distinctive American trait. It was one of the first things foreigners admired when they arrived in this country. Politicians got angry at one another in Congress, but it was rare to see average Americans get mad at each other over politics, much less fight over it.

But in this election, everything has changed. Violence has erupted in political rallies, with Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters blaming each other for starting it. Many people I know have decided not to talk about politics with friends and relatives for fear of breaking up close relationships.

For the first time, I don’t see cars with bumper stickers supporting any presidential candidate on the streets of Miami. Are people afraid that other motorists will curse at them, or that somebody will scratch their cars? Or is it that they feel so unenthusiastic about the candidates that they won’t publicly endorse any of them?

Maybe there are fewer bumper stickers here because Florida is a swing state, and it’s different in solid Republican or overwhelmingly Democratic states.

But ever since Trump started his presidential bid with a June 16, 2015, speech in which he claimed that most Mexican immigrants “are bringing crime” and are “rapists,” racism and xenophobia have divided this country like never before in recent history.

Trump has stirred up his nearly all-white audiences with thinly disguised racist remarks against Hispanics, African Americans and Muslims. And the sad thing is, his crowds love it.

They loved it when Trump said that Indiana-born federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel is not fit to rule in the case against Trump University because “he’s Mexican.” They loved it when he said that Ghazala Khan, the mother of a Gold Star U.S. soldier who died in combat, didn’t open her mouth during her husband’s speech at the Democratic Convention because she is a Muslim woman, implying that she is not allowed to talk.

They loved it when he insisted for several years, until last month, that President Obama was born in Kenya — a not-so-veiled effort to de-legitimize America’s first black president. They love to chant, “Build that wall! Build that wall!” at his campaign rallies.

It’s no wonder that neo-Nazi groups are supporting Trump, as a Mother Jones magazine investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported recently. White supremacists feel emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric and racial innuendos, even if he has disavowed some of them.

Their ideas of an Aryan-ruled America, once relegated to the dark corners of the internet, are now closer to mainstream politics.

A new report by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations says hate crimes against Latinos in that city increased by a whopping 69 percent last year.

And an SPLC report titled “The Trump Effect,” based on a survey of about 2,000 elementary school teachers, states that the presidential campaign “is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom.”

Many children are fearing deportation, and others are making fun of them, the report says. “Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail,” it says.

My opinion: I can’t vote for a hate-mongering demagogue who is supported by neo-Nazi groups, is dividing Americans and talks like he’s above the Constitution.

I have seen too many of these improvised “saviors of the fatherland” in Latin America, and they always end up destroying their countries. My vote will be to prevent that from happening in the United States.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español

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