One of the more regular lines that Latino Republicans peddle to their audience is that they or their families came from countries with despotic rulers and so cherish their new home in the United States because we live by the rule of law. But these Latinos have been largely silent while President Donald Trump has trampled on the norms of democracy that have been established for centuries in this country.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, for instance, weaves heroic stories of Cubans living under Fidel Castro who come here seeking refuge and then built a better life under the institutions of a benevolent United States.
Rubio is particularly talented in this storytelling, and, in turn, has been rewarded with a position at the highest levels of representative government. If you have not seen his speech at the Reagan library, you should. It’s a fantastic speech, but it is also an indulging fantasy that feeds the narrative to his audience that the United States is unique, a “city on a hill”, from which all other countries should see as a model of good governance.
Coming from a Cuban-American family, Rubio validates the stereotypes his audience has of Latinos and feeds the notion that Latin countries are despotic regimes largely because they are incapable of self-governance. What Rubio, and other Latino Republicans leave out, is the role that the United States has played in these countries that have driven them to despots.
One of the more approachable overviews of the U.S. role in this is by Juan Gonzalez’s book, Harvest of Empire, where he lays out American support for strongmen in pursuit of corporate interests. From the rich sugar crops of Puerto Rico, to bananas in Central America, the United States has turned many of these countries upside down.
But these warriors for freedom, such as Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have stood largely silent when Trump has flaunted the norms of democracy. Only now that former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed as a special counsel in the Russian investigation does Rubio acquiesce with the inevitable, saying “special counsel will lead us to the truth.”
But from Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, to suggesting that journalists be put in jail, Cruz and Rubio have stood idly by. Trump has appointed Kris Kobach to a commission on "voting integrity" that by all accounts is a turkey hunt meant to justify further barriers to participation for minorities. Kobach has been behind the anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070, in Arizona, and he has also been the tip of the spear poking the administration to get it to create a registry of Muslims in the U.S. But those so endeared to democratic principles have a way of not showing it.
The president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan, himself an authoritarian consolidating power in his own country, recently drove through our nation's capital and his bodyguards assaulted American citizens protesting him. There was no action taken by Latino Republicans in defense of American citizens. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, was under investigation for being on the payroll of a foreign country while performing his duties to his country, and yet Cruz and Rubio do nothing.
One is often asked what they would do in the face of authoritarianism, and we all fashion scenarios in which we would valiantly resist. Indeed, Cruz and Rubio, have largely painted this picture of themselves while stroking their audiences’ fantasies of Hillary Clinton’s authoritarian tendencies.
But it is not often that we get to actually see how we would react should we be faced with an actual threat to our democratic institutions. But now, we may know.
If Rubio and Cruz were party members of the Cuban regime while Castro rose to power, would they have drawn the line or would they, out of self-interest and fear of losing their comfortable positions within government, play the fool?