Fabiola Santiago

Everyone has a right to his or her opinion — including me

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after his speech during a campaign rally at Bayfront Park Amphitheater in Miami on Wednesday.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after his speech during a campaign rally at Bayfront Park Amphitheater in Miami on Wednesday. pportal@miamiherald.com

To shame me on social media, a Donald Trump supporter with professed hatred in her heart for my opinions brings my late father into the mix of presidential race hysterics in Miami.

The only reason this stranger knows anything about my humble factory-working father is that in my most inspired columns I sometimes evoke him — my muse, my Cuba, my second great loss. He was the dictator in the house who loved me, an exile broken on the inside by youthful dreams derailed. He died in 2012 at almost 89 in his Miami home surrounded by the greatest of wealth — a multi-generational family scattered at the time across the country.

I need to apologize to my father and his memory, this Cuban-American supporter of Trump claims, for the sin of writing opinion columns about the incongruous support of some Cuban exiles for her candidate. The Republican nominee has portrayed himself as a misogynist, racist, unhinged demagogue. Even Republican generals and intelligence chiefs think he’s the most dangerous candidate to have ever run for the highest office in this land.

But... how dare I opine that Cubans exiles shouldn’t support him?

I could easily retort: How dare she be so crass and crude as to drag someone else’s dead into her political agenda? But she has the right to her opinion, no matter how ugly and tasteless — and I’m here to defend her right to express it. That’s the difference between me and the Trump supporters who’ve made it their job to troll journalists with one purpose: to intimidate and silence us.

And that’s why I’m writing scant days from Election Day about this troubling characteristic of the Donald Trump supporters I’ve encountered from all walks of life, geographies and temperament. At some point, angrily or politely, they deliver the same message: How dare you write this? What gives you the right?

It’s as if they’ve never heard of the First Amendment or lived in a free society.

That, for me, is the scariest part of a Donald Trump presidency.

The GOP candidate and many of his supporters are not believers in the constitutional foundation of this country. The value Americans hold most dear and sacred — the freedom to express opinions others might not like — they find offensive and reprehensible. And they’ve pinned their hopes on this wealthy authoritarian patriarchal figure to change that for them. They’re tone-deaf to his threat that he won’t accept election results if he doesn’t win. Destabilizing the country matters not, because Papa Trump will “Make America Great Again.”

How dare I write this?

I dare because my parents sacrificed everything they were, everything they had in the homeland they didn’t want to leave so that I could be a free woman. That’s the single driving force behind my writing — and I owe no apologies, least of all to Cuban Americans who adore a would-be tyrant and chusma-in-chief, a product of a self-degrading GOP.

They need not worry about my father. If he were alive, our conversations would be epic like they always were, no matter the subject. Listening to him, debating him, I became a better journalist. No doubt he would, like many Republicans, remain party-loyal. No doubt I’d challenge him on every issue, telling him once more that his place in the political spectrum was to the right of Ronald Reagan, his favorite American president. We’d walk away angry, exhausted — but the next day, he’d tell me I was probably right on principle, and reproach me for not becoming a lawyer and a Republican.

But he had no stomach for the self-anointed “leaders” of exile who jammed their opinions down others’ throats.

Once, his sister called from Cuba collect. She had been listening to a Cuban radio station in Miami. I was the subject of a commentator’s rage. She was worried. She didn’t understand.

"Ay, what is that they’re saying about my niece on Cuban radio? What happened?"

The “sin” I had committed was dubbing a longtime broadcaster “the dean of Cuban radio” in a small Herald story, angering competitors who took gratuitous swipes at me and the newspaper. Cuban radio, which I reported on, seemed to hold the town hostage with such tirades. People feared them. They ran campaigns and called for boycotts.

My father, an avid listener, answered his sister: “For that crap, you spend my money?” Then he hung up. I was flabbergasted and called my poor aunt back. She blamed the Cuban government for the bad connection. My father seldom listened to Cuban radio again.

Make no mistake about it, when it came to me, he had eyes for no other.

This aberration of an election would be no different.

He’d have a hard time getting there, but he’d follow the Bush family and be part of the estimated 28 percent of Florida Republicans rejecting Trump. He would come around to seeing that the scariest part of a Donald Trump presidency is the erosion of the most precious of rights: free speech.

And certainly, he’d agree that I owe no apology for my point of view.