Cruz, Trump, and Dixie: What Pundits Don’t Get About the South

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Donald Trump’s triumphant march through the South comes as no surprise to anyone who understands the nature of the Hispanic presence in southern towns and the “poor white” tradition of voting for the local strongman.

I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas.  I recall that our district was represented by a woman named Betty Andujar when I was a child… and that, believe me, was a long time ago!  I would have asked a girl named Janet Garza out on a date when I was a timid freshman at TCU if only I could have mustered the courage. No one ever told me that there was any “we/they” opposition in these matters.

In states like Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, a Mexican influence has been spread evenly through our architecture, our food, our pop-cultural phrases, and even our family structure and DNA for several generations.  We don’t see the name “Chavez” or “Ayala” and instantly think, “Invader!  One of them!  Why don’t they go home?”  To be honest, we may have precisely that reaction now whenever we find that parts of our towns have been taken over by people who won’t speak English and eye you suspiciously if you happen to stray into one of their shops or restaurants.  When they come into my wife’s clinic and demand an interpreter, they refuse to understand any Spanish spoken by a gringo—but Rosalita at the front desk has no problems.  Yet if I ask one of them to cut down a tree for me, he not only follows my Castellano but turns out to grasp Ingles pretty well. Does the phrase “reverse racism” mean anything to you?

There’s a difference between a legal immigrant who willingly merges into the local culture and an alien whose secret mission is to implant his homeland’s colony right in your midst.  Most of us in the Southwest, whether our last name is Harris or Arriago, can tell the difference.

People in the South cannot. My wife hails from northern Georgia, in the foothills of Appalachia. We lived in her hometown for a while, and also in North Carolina and Tennessee for several years.    When people there see somebody named Gonzalez, they think of a “wetback” come to steal a local job.  All the Southern states—but especially the Carolinas, in my experience—have factories and mills operating at low overhead with outdated equipment.  My brother-and-law can talk about loading docks whose workers climb the chain-link fences every time they think some official has driven up to inquire into their status.  Such places have no element of Latin tradition in their local culture.  They’re still struggling, sometimes, to admit blacks into white society.  (The minister of a church we visited in NC, during the only service we ever sat through there, memorably added “not being black” to the list of things his congregation could thank God for.)  If you expect migrant, off-the-radar workers from Mexico to weave themselves readily into this social fabric, then you know nothing about human communities.

I’m not trying to sneer at the South.  My ancestors were Virginians and South Carolinians.  And it must be stressed in their defense that most Hispanics in mill villages really are there for the work and really do have dubious legal status.  Naturally, they also clique together very tightly, attending their own eglesias and labeling their bakeries pañerias.  Even their “Mexican food” is altogether too authentically campesino, to my taste—very basic and bland, and its meat content a little suspect.  The young men of these exile colonies like to show their machismo by drinking and driving; and sometimes (as with most bottom-rung socio-economic groups) they smack their womenfolk around before sobering up.  Even back in old Mexico, they were usually the lowest of the low. Many would be styled indios there (i.e., possessing a great deal of Native American DNA).  The ill-fated Venustiano Carrasco is still celebrated in Mexican history books for his progressive plans to form a true Spanish America, diluted neither by “yankophila” or “indigenism” (in the coinages of one scholar). To speak plain, the native peoples often heavily represented in illegal immigration have traditionally been as loathed by Mexican intellectuals as have gringos.

All of that just leads to this: when a North Carolinian like William Gheen of ALIPAC hears “Mexican”, he probably thinks of stolen jobs, fragmented communities, victims of drunk drivers, and squalidly violent crime.  When he hears that Donald Trump wants to build a wall, he thinks, “Good.  No more layoffs, no-go zones, children run over, and gang rapes.  No more Mexicans.”  I can understand that response, and I even share it to some degree—though, as a Texan, I distinguish between the generic “Mexican” and drifting, adventurist blue-collar refugees created by Mexico’s dysfunctional economy.  I guess I can even understand how the long-time inhabitants of mill villages wouldn’t mind taking a chance on one of our era’s most unscrupulous, mendacious, pompous, and sordiloquacious hucksters—the miles gloriosus of the twenty-first century.  What are the options?  A guy named Cruz and another named Rubio.  Why should they secure the border?  Just look at their names!

I suggested in my last post that such responses were racist.  Maybe so… but what’s commonly called racism is usually a complex association of sketchy ideas, not a deliberate, evolved theory about the superiority of one race to another.  (There’s really no scientific basis to the notion of race, as the case of the Mexican indio shows: ultimately, we’re all mutts.) Nevertheless, to refuse to vote for a man whose record of fulfilling his word is punctilious just because his surname ends in a “z” strikes me as stupid in a very costly manner, especially when his rival prevaricates on any rare occasion when he answers a question directly; and to rationalize tarring the “z” man by elevating to prominence a document signed by his wife sixteen years ago must insult the intelligence of anyone who is not, in fact, stupid.

Hang for a sheep, hang for a ram: I’ll add this much more to my charge of racism for anyone who is still reading.  (My South Carolinian great-grandfather, by the way, died in a snowstorm taking Christmas food to black families when his Model T was struck by a train; not all Southerners think in black-and-white, and the very suggestion infuriates me.)  Donald Trump has won big in the South, and has added Mississippi’s scalp to his lodgepole since my last post, because of traditional Democrats.  Besides Gheen-style Republicans who are disgusted with Lindsay Graham, you also—and perhaps especially—see in Trump’s winning numbers the approval of high-school dropouts, single moms brought up on welfare, blue-collar workers displaced by technology and outsourcing… people, in short, whose ancestors were tenant farmers and petty artisans, who were fed from the cradle on distrust of the landlord class dosed with hot hatred of working-class rivals, and who have never once dreamed or imagined that they might crawl out of the hole through their own effort rather than the patronage of a powerful protector.  We have a lot of those still in the South.  They usually vote for the landlord/industrialist who keeps non-whites from replacing them on the farm or the assembly line (read “Democrat”); and that’s what they did this time, too.

I assume that the dismal ignorance and inexperience of the South manifested by Coulter, Hannity, O’Reilly, Ingraham, Limbaugh (most recently and disappointingly), and other Yankee pundits explains their shock at the “SEC” primaries.  Why, aren’t all white Southerners evagelical, and wasn’t Cruz supposed to sweep up the church-going set? Religion means a lot down South; but it is always a version of religion adapted to local tradition.  (Remember the minister who fervently thanked God for not being black?) Rush is perhaps closest to the truth—too close, maybe: so close that he himself has been drawn into Trump’s orbit after decades of being belittled for not having a college degree and lacking the prerequisites for admission into elite circles.  Every day this past week, seemingly, he has described with a saber-like ring in his tone the resentment of being sneered at by the ruling class which he ascribes to Trump supporters. That’s a very Southern feeling.  Ironically, the Ultimate Carpetbagger has succeeded in exploiting it.  The Democrat Party mined it from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement.  Now a Republican has found the golden vein… if the word “Republican” still means anything.

Should Trump ever get to a general election, I tell you here and now: he will draw more Democrats from Hillary than he draws conservative Republicans from their stay-at-home protests.  And here’s one more for the pundits: if Senator Cruz were to run against both Trump and Hillary, he would win a plurality of the votes. Cruz has already given his word, regreattably, that he will not make an independent run, and Ted keeps his word. I think an Allen West/Carly Fiorina ticket could also defeat these two demagogic mega-crooks… but that, of course, is a story for another day.

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