Carolyn Long, the Washington State University Vancouver political science professor turned congressional candidate who hopes to unseat Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the Nov. 6, 2018 General Election, said last week that she truly believes voters are ready to move past the polarizing politics that defined the 2016 presidential election.
As she travels around Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, Long says she finds many people — Republicans, Democrats and independents — who are concerned by the type of common needs and desires like stable jobs, affordable housing, access to health care and education that trump (no pun intended) the fear-mongering about immigrants that pushed Trump into the presidency.
This idea that people will move past their divisions, set aside their fears and racist assumptions about immigrants and come together to create a better community, may be exactly the type of hopeful outlook we need right now, but it’s tough to see when you look on a national level.
After all, people are still turning out to Trump’s increasingly divisive “rallies,” still calling for a wall along our southern border and still crying “fake news” or “jail them” at anyone who dare criticize the president.
Even more frightening, as we’ve discussed in this space several times before, hate crimes in the United States have increased dramatically since Trump came into power. Overt racists likely feel empowered by Trump’s message about immigrants, which is extremely divisive, hateful and a complete departure from what other Republican presidents have said:
In 1980, Ronald Reagan said of immigrants: “Rather than … talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit and … while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here.”
In contrast, in 2015, Trump said: “… you have people coming through the border that are from all over. And they’re bad. They’re really bad. You have people coming in, and I’m not just saying Mexicans, I’m talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re coming into this country.”
Trump voters didn’t care about the obvious racism in that speech. They didn’t care about the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico decreased by more than one million since 2007. They also didn’t care that immigrants — documented or not — are not “stealing” U.S.-born workers’ jobs. In fact, even in the sectors like agriculture, construction and hospitality, which employ the majority of undocumented immigrants, U.S.-born workers are still more likely, on a national scale, to be employed in all of those fields.
Instead, many Trump voters chose fear over facts. Research shows that a driving factor in the election was the fear among white men and women that they were losing their positions of power in an increasingly multi-cultural world.
So, it’s really hard to see people dropping the divisions that pushed all of us to one side or the other after the 2016 presidential election. But when you take it to a local level, Long’s hope doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.
On a local level, people tend to support immigrants and their families. They eat at their restaurants. They teach their children. They count on their tax dollars to add to the local tax base. They celebrate their business and academic achievements. They depend on them as healers when they go to the hospital. At a local level, immigrants are simply a part of the community.
As community journalists, our role is not just to hold people in power accountable for their corrupt or morally questionable actions, but also to give a voice to the powerless in our community. We will keep pushing to show our readers the realities of immigrants who live in our community — and to help dispel the myths that have polarized our country. And we will hold out hope that Long’s assessment of 3rd District voters is correct, and that people really are ready to come together for the good of everyone instead of the biases of just a few.