No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture

Image: November 23, 2019. Border Field State Park, California. An individual sits on top of the wall while he keeps an eye on National Guard troops. Photo by Adriana Jasso.


Synopsis:

by Harry L. Simón Salazar

No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture is an examination of the political marginalization of raza [1]In the preface of No Walls For Donald, I include a brief survey of Latin American and indigenous identities. I also explain why I use raza rather than Latinx by historicizing the term and its roots … Continue reading communities within the United States and the Latin American geographies of political influence that perpetuate their balkanization.

The book begins with the premise that the denigration of Latin American people was the cornerstone of the socio-political movement known as “trumpism.” Indeed, through the relentless vilification of Latin American people, particularly people of Mexican descent, militant right-wing forces channeled deeply-rooted anxieties about demographic change. The “browning of America” is perceived as an existential threat to the status quo within the United States, and was used to rally the trumpian base to seize significant electoral victories and policy outcomes, while simultaneously redirecting public attention away from various large-scale scandals and systemic crises.[2]For information about trumpian media practices, see Benkler et al. 2018, Bennett et al. 2020, Boczkowski et al. 2018. These anxieties were outlined during the 1990s and early 2000s in works by Samuel … Continue reading

Each chapter of No Walls For Donald opens with a unique case study that demonstrates how the trumpian movement mobilized anti-Latin American tendencies. These six examples center on what was new within the movement, such as Trump’s truculent enthusiasm to engage in this type of political communication, the ideological discipline of the GOP and their cable news allies to reproduce it, and the speed and scale of right-wing social media to ensure maximum exposure. Yet, as the title suggests, the analyses provided in each chapter are not limited to trumpism. Instead, the book builds on the recognition that Trump did not introduce this type of calculated bigotry to the U.S., where there is a well-documented history of bipartisan, media-centered racial scapegoating entrenched within North American political culture.[3]Hughey & González-Lesser 2020, González & Torres 2011; Jacobs 2009. Despite the conjuring of spiked walls, migrant caravans, tattoo-faced gang members, drug dealers, and rapists, the ordering logic of this anti-Latin Americanism is not just a short-term bigoted tactic for political gain, but also a medium-term strategy to maintain the political balkanization/marginalization of raza communities within the United States.

No Walls For Donald makes the case that the United States is now a part of Latin America, and treats the anti-raza nature of contemporary U.S. politics as a primer to support a closer examination of how globalized right-wing interests in the U.S. and Latin America converge in an undemocratic and violent defense of the political and economic status quo in North, Central, and South America.[4]Gonzales 2014, González 2011. Home to at least 62 million people of Latin American heritage (18.7% of the total U.S. population), representing and the “principal driver of U.S. demographic growth,”[5]How the US Hispanic population is changing | Pew Research Center the U.S. ranks as the third most populous Latin American country, after Brazil and Mexico. Despite its burgeoning population, the demonstrable lack of raza representation within the U.S. civic landscape is understood as the northernmost manifestation of long-standing anti-democratic policies and political-economic norms experienced throughout Latin America. These anti-democratic tendencies are rationalized through neoliberal cold-war logics and the internal contradictions of Latin American transnational political communication.

The book draws from a range of quantitative and qualitative methods organized around a conceptual framework known as the mediatization of politics. Mediatization is “shorthand for all the transformations of communicative and social processes, and the social and practical forms built from them, which follow from our increasing reliance on technologically and institutionally based processes of mediation” as a metaprocess linked to globalization and neoliberalism.[6]Couldry & Hepp 2013. See also Couldry & Hepp 2017, Landerer 2013, Hjarvard 2008, Krotz, 2009, and Simón Salazar 2018. I build on this definition by focusing on the dynamic relationship between mediated and natural manifestations of a phenomenon, particularly the differentiation between these two dimensions (for example, the trumpian vilification of Latin American people versus the legacy U.S. interventionism, the political economy of border enforcement, etc.). The differentiation, or gap, between these two dimensions, is most representative of the mediatization circuit because it signals a disjuncture between political culture and the corporeal configuration of political and economic power.[7]Simón Salazar 2020.

My use of this sociocultural-mediatization framework in No Walls For Donald enlists conceptual tools necessary to track and compare common dynamics within contemporary media practices, particularly the instrumentalization of ethnic and racial conflict as an increasingly salient aspect of U.S. political communication and civic culture. Our recent experiences with trumpism provide a glimpse of how the ongoing political crisis will manifest in our proximate future within the context of the ongoing Latin Americanization of the United States. Moreover, my contribution to this topic is rooted in a raza-centered, media studies perspective.

My research suggests that trumpism represents a new arrangement between contemporary digital media practices, political power, and political culture. In this regard, we have much to learn from Latin America because the trumpian reconfiguration of right-wing media practices and contemporary political power has been deployed successfully by anti-democratic forces throughout the region since the 1980s. What distinguishes this new arrangement is how contemporary digital media practices are used to quickly weaponize ossified forms of estranging political communication in the wake of a neoliberal crisis of democratic norms.

It is safe to say that the transnational right’s racialized construction of national and class identities stimies working-class identity formation and international solidarity. The vilification of Latin America in U.S. political culture plays a critical role in shoring up hemispheric right-wing identities that since the 1980s have been significantly constructed by media.[8]Davis 2018, HoSang & Lowndes 2019, Jardina 2019, Peck 2020. Indeed, the book’s principal arguments are that the trumpian vilification of Latin America embodies the mediatization of U.S. political culture and places raza working-class peoples in the crosshairs of North American and Latin American fascism.


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Notes

Notes
1In the preface of No Walls For Donald, I include a brief survey of Latin American and indigenous identities. I also explain why I use raza rather than Latinx by historicizing the term and its roots in working-class socio-political struggles that began to take shape within the U.S. in the 1950s. By the 1960s, the term “raza” was used by activists as a pan-Latin American identity. Since then, it has been used as a term that recognizes and honors the indigeneity of Latin American people, but also the gender-neutral, working-class, multi-racial, multi-ethnic diversity of the Americas. Contemporary criticisms of the term are generally rooted in right-wing misrepresentations, claiming that it is “racist” because of its direct English translation into race.
2For information about trumpian media practices, see Benkler et al. 2018, Bennett et al. 2020, Boczkowski et al. 2018. These anxieties were outlined during the 1990s and early 2000s in works by Samuel Huntington and Pat Buchanan, and are a central theme within the Great Replacement theory. The political potency of these ideas was tested and confirmed during the rise of Pete Wilson to the governorship of California. For information about “the browning of America,” see Chavez 2013, Flores-González 2017, Gonzales et al 2021, Jardina 2019, Rodríguez-Muñiz 2021, Sundstrom 2008.
3Hughey & González-Lesser 2020, González & Torres 2011; Jacobs 2009.
4Gonzales 2014, González 2011.
5How the US Hispanic population is changing | Pew Research Center
6Couldry & Hepp 2013. See also Couldry & Hepp 2017, Landerer 2013, Hjarvard 2008, Krotz, 2009, and Simón Salazar 2018.
7Simón Salazar 2020.
8Davis 2018, HoSang & Lowndes 2019, Jardina 2019, Peck 2020.
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