Hispanics must be on the mind of the erratic, bombastic American president, already on the campaign trail for the midterm elections on behalf of Republicans.
Why else would President Donald Trump keep asking if "we’re in the room," in Miami two weeks ago, and Saturday night, in Michigan?
His bizarre question — “Any Hispanics in the room?” — in Hialeah, a city with a solid 90-plus percent Hispanic population, was taken as a joke. Given his history of racist behavior, I had my doubts, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Surrounded by Cuban-American Republican supporters, Trump was in a jolly mood praising his tax reform win, so it was easy to dismiss the question as a quip, his style of humor. Sort of like when he purposely pronounces with exaggerated intonation C-U-B-A and P-U-E-R-T-O R-I-C-O, and in his mind, it’s supposed to be a compliment (in Hurricane Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico’s case, as he threw out paper towels at the crowd, too). It's obnoxious, but with this president, there's so much egregious behavior, who's got time to nit-pick?
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However, in Michigan — a state with a history of importing Mexican immigrant labor, using people, and when they become inconvenient, repatriating them — the question took on an ugly subtext.
Speaking at a campaign-styled rally at Total Sports Park with the usual backdrop of mostly white supporters in red caps — and three African Americans, two of them carrying “Blacks for Trump” signs — the president worked up the crowd right away into a 2016 election frenzy with talk of holding back the "caravan" of 150 immigrants traveling from Central America.
“Build the wall! Build the wall!"
Only difference: Now Trump, in addition to making the same promises, was actually delivering policy results as he cast old and new adversaries like Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, the media, and former FBI director James Comey in the worst possible — and familiar — Trump light, ignoring scandals like Stormy Daniels and the Russia probe.
He made sure to repeatedly note that he had skipped the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington to hang out with his supporters in Washington, Michigan.
He was all over the place, as he usually is, but way more confident and clever in manipulating the crowd.
His entree into the Hispanic topic came by way of self-praise for creating 300,000 new jobs and “for wages rising at the fastest pace in many, many years.” Confidence is soaring, Trump said, and “all over the world, they’re talking about this incredible success.” Any negativism is the work of “the obstructionist party, that’s all they’re good at.”
He noted that “African American unemployment has reached the lowest level in history. In history! In history!”
Then, “Hispanic unemployment — any Hispanics in the room?”
There was an awkward moment of silence, then jeers from the crowd.
Do you think the president interrupted the booing of our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — and our ancestors who came to this country before there was even a Plymouth Rock for the Pilgrims to land on? Do you think he, world leader, took the moral high road and said that insulting an ethnic group is morally corrupt and un-American?
This is, after all, race-baiting, misogynist, white supremacist Donald J. Trump.
“Nawh, not so many, that’s okay” was his response.
And, he continued on as if nothing had happened: “And by the way, in all fairness, Kanye West, he gets it, he gets it. And he saw that. When he sees African American unemployment is the lowest in history, you know people are watching. That’s a very important thing he’s done for his legacy [the rapper showing his support for Trump, I suppose]. But Hispanic unemployment lowest level in history, women, female unemployment, lowest level in 18 years.”
For the female part, Trump earns hearty applause and approval from the crowd.
From there, the coast clear of Hispanics, Trump returned to the anti-immigrant tirade with which he started his speech, saying the United States “has the dumbest immigration laws anywhere on Earth.”
Yes, that’s what the president called constitutionally guaranteed due process, what differentiates us from dictatorships.
“The laws are so corrupt,” he actually said. That would be the Constitution.
He worked himself up to threaten to “close down the country” if he doesn’t get the billions he needs in funding for his border wall. And he promised farmers that he would start a guest worker program whereby Americans could return to 1900s Michigan by having farm hands "help you...then they’re going to leave."
The Divider-in-Chief is three years away from re-election but he’s already on the campaign trail with the same zest and nativist rhetoric that brought him the win.
And the president’s supporters? Well, they don’t bother to hide their racism anymore, confirming the findings of a University of Pennsylvania study that they voted for Trump, not out of economic anxiety but because they’re afraid to lose their white privilege and social dominance to minority groups.
But they, the Republican Party, and Trump could use a little reminder.
Michigan’s 477,000 Hispanics make up 5 percent of the population; 78 percent are U.S. born, younger than their counterparts with a median age of 20, and eligible to vote.
You might not see us, but we’re an integral part of the American mosaic.
Yes, Mr. President, there are ‘Hispanics in the room’ all over this country of ours.
Follow me on Twitter @fabiolasantiago