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Latinx: The New Force in American Politics – Book Review

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Mural by Rosalia Torres Weiner at Gateways/Portales exhibit at Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum

Before discussing Ed Morales’ new book, it’s important to define what its title means.  ‘Latinx’ is the gender-neutral terms for people of Latin American heritage.  Latino, the traditionally used term, is, by its Spanish definition, masculine.  Thus, many people feel that it’s an exclusionary term that associates Latin American people with men, by default.

LATINX is, unsurprisingly, a book about the politics and history of the plethora of Latinx identities, which extends well into the Middle Ages.  Morales starts off the book by relating the beginnings of Spanish identity, when what is now Spain was a Muslim colony called Al-Andalus.  Muslim Moors (or Berbers) from northern Africa conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula in the 700s, a land inhabited by Catholics and some Jews.  Morales writes about the complex relationship between these three groups and how the Moorish dynasty helped form the Spanish ethnicity that we know today.

In 1492, the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella forced out the Moorish dynasty (as well as the native Jews) and, ironically, set out their own colonial expedition the same year.  Christopher Columbus, rumored to be a Jew himself, thus started the transplant of the Spanish identity onto almost all of Central and South America, what we now call Latin America.

Morales follows this historical progression in the following chapters of LATINX.  The Spaniards brought the ethnic hang-ups that they had leftover from the Moorish regime with them to the Americas.  They enslaved the natives under the encomienda system and established a racial hierarchy called mestizaje.  Morales writes that the, “Spaniards and Portuguese inherited the historical roots of racist views towards sub-Saharan Africans through their intimate connection with [Moorish] Islam customs, cultures & practices.  Muslim practices of enslavement divided slaves between field and housework according to skin color.  Lighter skinned slaves were favored over the darker skinned.”  The nature of Spanish colonialism, in which swarms of male conquistadores held all the land/power and enforced the racial hierarchy by taking native wives, created the famously sexist machista culture, which persists in Latin America to this day.

Importantly, Morales makes sure to write about Florida and the American Southwest (Aztlan), which most people forget belonged to the Spanish Empire for a couple centuries.  In a paradigm-shifting bit of trivia, the author places, “the origin of the American cowboy in the 1850s, when a group led by Jose de Escandon crossed the Rio Grande to collaborate with Richard King, who founded the King Ranch.”  By restating this history, he’s demonstrating that Latinx are as American as anyone, having occupied and culturally shaped what is now the USA for as long as the country has existed.  This runs quite contrary to what many American nationalists claim today, with their foreign invasion/clash of cultures rhetoric.

Morales then writes about the modern Latinx-American citizenry in the final, bulkiest section of the book.  A major topic is how Latinx view themselves.  The Latinx self-paradigm is shaped by nationality, religion and different notions of ‘race’.  The author notes that,  “The US developed a racial matrix based on strict separation of races, rather than adopting the relatively fluid models of Iberian colonization, which engaged in a kind of exponential racial variation through both forced and negotiated miscegenation.”  Latinx living in the US must internalize and externalize different ethnic identities when interacting with Caucasian, Asian, African, Native and Latinx communities.  For instance, being black (negro/negra) in Latin America has some very different cultural permutations than being black in the US.

The book is particularly focused on Cuban-Americans, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans (who are Americans, by definition).  These three ethnicities have been closely tied to the US ever since the Mexican-American War, in which the US annexed half of Mexico, and the Spanish-American War, in which the US seized Cuba and Puerto Rico.  Cuban-Americans, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans have had a huge impact on American electoral politics and culture, especially music.  Morales writes a lot about the entwinement of politics in Latinx salsa, rock, jazz and hip-hop.  Readers are also treated to many excerpts from Latinx poems and essays.  Though, the book gives a not-so-fun fact about Latinx in Hollywood: only 1% of lead roles in movies are given to Latinx actors!

American cultural hegemony over Latinx is also explored in the book.  It explores how Latinx, particularly first-generation migrants, have been politically and economically encumbered.  Latinx are mostly treated as objects by Democrats and Republicans alike, rather than as constituents.  Politicians pander to either xenophobia or milquetoast platitudes about equality.  Small wonder Latinx vote at a disproportionately low rate.  As a result, Latinx are severely underserved not just on the immigration issue, but matters of employment, education and countless other issues.

As the book’s subtitle suggests though, this is starting to change, just from sheer demographic changes.  ‘Latino’ is now the 2nd most commonly given ethnicity in the US Census, behind ‘White’.  About 60% of Latinx are millenials or younger; thus, they will come to exert an ever-increasing influence of the labor market and pop cultural mores (Cardi B, anyone?).  Latinx also have a disproportionately high purchasing power, $1.4T, and social media presence.  Morales illuminates the multi-billion dollar efforts to market to this young constituency, such as the NBC-owned Telemundo television network and countless focus groups.

Though Latinx have under-utilized their voting power thus far, their population boom alone is making them more of a factor in elections.  They disproportionately populate the biggest Electoral College states, such as New York and California, and swing states like Florida and Arizona.  Pundits have spent many a segment extolling the Latinx voter bloc.  Even the Republican National Committee recommended doing voter outreach to Latinos after Romney’s 2012 loss (guess Donald Trump never got the memo).  Morales writes about Latinx voter enrollment efforts and misconceptions about Latinx social conservatism, particularly among the famous Cuban-Floridian voting bloc.

Latinx: The New Force In American Politics is a thorough look at the history of the group of people called ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’.  The effects of colonialism and banana republic neo-colonialism on people living in Latin America- and those who migrated to the US as a result- are exposed.  The Latinx experience has been one of both cultural immersion and subversion of multinational power structures, such as racism and labor exploitation.  There is no monolithic Latinx archetype- Latin America is a mix of Caucasians, natives, Africans, Middle Easterners and Asians.  Though nominally Christian, worshippers in countries across the hemisphere have incorporated indigenous icons and beliefs, such as the Virgin of Guadeloupe and Santeria.  Such diversity challenges American perceptions of Latinx and the racial hierarchy as a whole.  Ed Morales exposes these contradictions through history, data, poetry and personal anecdotes from his Nuyorican upbringing.

Russell Whitehouse is Executive Editor at IntPolicyDigest. He’s also a freelance social media manager/producer, 2016 Iowa Caucus volunteer and a policy essayist.

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In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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