A seismic demographic shift in the United States has forced some to consider what actually "makes America great." This debate has been fully displayed within the Republican Party, referred to — somewhat ironically given the recent rhetoric — as the Party of Lincoln.
Beginning in 2008, a vocal base of the Republican Party — whiter, older, and less formally educated — rebelled against the "otherness" of President Barack H. Obama. They challenged his veracity, religion, and citizenship. In that campaign, Senator John McCain had the decency to push back against the know-nothings in his own party.
Now the same party has nominated for president a man who has exploited this relentless wave of ignorance, once claiming that he sent investigators to Hawaii to uncover the secrets of President Obama's birth certificate. Such overt racism has infected the party at all levels. Who can forget the revealing 2010 rant of State Representative Curry Todd (R-Collierville) against the 14th Amendment's birthright citizenship clause when he suggested that Latinos would multiply like "rats"? He was reelected two more times by the people of his district.
Though the GOP has been handed over to racists and xenophobes, there are signs that the American public has had enough of hateful speech and fearmongering. Representative Todd's political implosion and Trump's tumbling poll numbers may be omens of what's to come.
Demographics are the harbingers of the inevitable failure of this movement. Latinos number 27.3 million eligible voters, and their participation in November will prove critical in many states. In New Mexico, 40.4 percent of the electorate is Latino; their voice, their history, and their concerns will greatly impact that state's vote.
To ignore or offend the Latino community in swing states makes little sense. For the past several years, education, jobs/economy, and health care have been the top three issues rated for registered Latino voters. But, immigration will be at the heart of the Latino vote for the foreseeable future because it directly affects nearly every Latino family.
For many Latinos in the United States, Obama will leave behind a nebulous legacy and an opportunity for Republicans. While signing executive orders (DACA, for example) which established a temporary status for young, undocumented immigrants, his administration also pursued deportations at an unprecedented level, earning him the nickname of "Deporter-in-Chief" from some activists.
The Republican response nominated a man whose rhetoric toward the Latino community is unidimensional and built on vilification, and who has plans for deportation and national isolation via construction of a wall.
The vast majority of Americans are rejecting this posturing. They are not fooled by a disingenuous campaign that focuses on a few bad Latino apples and completely dismisses the hardworking, tax-paying, social security-contributing people who are part of the basic fabric of our communities.
America's greatness does not come from harkening back to a mythical past, but from the sueño Americano — the American Dream — built on dynamism created by constant influxes of new immigrants who are hungry to earn their place, contribute to their communities, and raise their kids. The energy, vitality, and optimism that still influences and guides this nation are not to be found in every nation, but here, it still endures.
Shifting demographics create challenges, opportunities, and, for some, fear. We shouldn't ignore that. There are serious problems with our immigration system, but hateful speech and reactionary policies can never lead to a better way. Only a reasonable, bipartisan, comprehensive immigration package set by Congress, that offers a pathway to citizenship for millions of hardworking people who have been contributing to our nation for decades, can address immigration misunderstandings.
America is not the unhinged mob that Trump hopes to lead. Trump's downward spiral shows us that any person in America who aspires to public office has to live in a world defined by the demographic data upon which we're anchored.
Trying to alter that data, through mass deportation, is not the America to which we aspire. We hope that Todd and Trump represent the last gasp of a movement that's completely contrary to that which makes this nation unique and great.
Bryce W. Ashby is a Memphis-based attorney and board member at Latino Memphis; Michael J. LaRosa is an associate professor of history at Rhodes College.