Thursday, November 19, 2020


The 2016 election shifted the electoral landscape ground of America, and 2020 brought forth that new perspective to U.S. politics. Assumptions were shaken and weaknesses revealed influencing the nation’s character. From the point of view of political parties, the new landscape is favorable to Republicans, and Democrats are weakened, in spite of having won the presidency this cycle. 

Let us start with the good news: political engagement is up. Whether because of the rising influence of social media, the polarizing figure of Donald Trump or the pandemic lockdown (idle hands), political conversation and engagement have risen substantially over the last few years and, consequentially, a record voter turnout occurred both in the 2018 midterm and the 2020 presidential elections. It is a good thing when Americans are concerned about their political process enough to be willing to participate in it with their voice and votes. It is civic energy on the rise.

The bad news for Democrats is that a key assumption held as an article of faith by many in the leadership, that turnout is good for party results, has been shattered. In a turnout record breaking election the president-elect, Joe Biden, won by slim margins in key states and lost soundly in what were believed to be swing states. In Florida, for example, where turnout is estimated to have been close to 72%, President Trump won the state by a 3% margin, two congressional districts flipped back to Republican hands, State House Republicans gained seven seats, and in the State Senate they gained one. Turnout did not seemingly increase chances for a Democratic win in the state.

There is also another blue illusion coming out of the election: Arizona. The margin of victory for the presidential election was very narrow and can be attributed easily to animosity against Trump, due to his disrespect towards Sen. John McCain and Sheriff Arpaio’s pardon. But, just like Wisconsin with 11K votes in 2016 flipped Blue this cycle, Arizona could easily do the same in 2024. Grassroots work by LUCHA (Latinos United for Change), begun as a backlash to SB1070 (“Papers, please”) may eventually do in Arizona what Prop. 187 did in California, a formerly reliable Red State (home to Nixon and Reagan), but this has not happened yet. Georgia, with the recent death of John Lewis driving votes, could easily fall under the same illusion of a bluish hue, but the Democratic victory in this state seems more structurally sound that the one in Arizona. January will be an indicator. But these victories have blurred many a vision with blue tinted glasses.

The biggest lesson from the election has to do with the Latino vote. Many postmortems are underway, but the big assumption that “demography is destiny” was another one crushed with this election. The key takeaway is that the Republican share of the Latino vote increased. While other variables such as young vote and women’s vote are comparable to the rest of the electorate, the Latino vote as a whole is less Democratic than 12 years ago, relatively steady hovering around 66% for the party, while for the Republicans it has increased from 27 to 32%. Significant increases in the Latino vote for the Republicans relative to 2016 are notable in potential swing states such as Nevada (+8% of the Latino vote), Arizona (+3%), Texas (+6%), Florida (+12%), Ohio (+11%), Iowa (+5%) and Colorado (+7%). Gains for the Republicans in the share of the Latino vote were also seen in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Only California, New York and Michigan saw an increase in the share of Latino vote for the Democratic Party relative to 2016 (Numbers are from AS/COA). While the final numbers may change, the trend is clear.

The Democratic Party has a Latino problem. A recent open question on a social media group of self-identified Latino democrats (out of approx. 1,000 with about 50 or so active respondents) trying to find out their thoughts on Democratic Party engagement with the Latino community resulted in a wide variety of answers. This is a short compilation of them:

1.     The most frequent complaint was the lumping of all Latino vote as a generic block: “Mexicans are not Venezuelans, are not Puerto Ricans” is typical of the comments. This indicates a pride of identity of origin and a disdain for being categorized in a single bloc. Heard it before, not new, still valid. The Latino community is widely diverse and racially mixed, with intra-group tensions and, as such, it is a complex group to reach.

2.     The second most common point was that there was no clear and aggressive counter message to generic attacks against Democrats. Using a straightforward punch such as “Death to Communism” was in the comments, but counter argued by a belief that there is a “far left” in the party that needs to be appeased. This illustrates such a deep penetration of the Republican message that even party sympathisers believe there are politically extreme and violent elements in, and supported by, the party.

3.     The roots of each bloc within first generation Latino voters are ignored, particularly the fear of urban and gang violence (“Law and Order” concerns) and the fear of repressive regimes that call themselves socialists, i.e. the reason they came to the U.S. in the first place.

4.     A better understanding of the immigration issue, particularly as a perceived character transformation once citizenship is attained, needs to be achieved. There is a marked difference between recent citizens and second / third generation Latinos and their views on immigration.

5.     A “taken for granted” perception of Democratic leadership regarding the Latino vote, manifested as tardy outreach efforts. A two to four year grassroots outreach with tailored messaging and registration drives in the community was suggested. Some people pointed out the “Stacy Abrams model” to apply it in Latino heavy regions. While efforts in this regard have been made in Texas, other factors (3 and 4 above in particular), counterbalanced efforts there. It is not enough to have as an excuse an initial lack of resources for the campaign. Resources and investments need to be long term, not just “final push” ones, that then get perceived as blatant pandering with mariachis, taco salads and cafecitos.

6.     More frequent shout outs about problems in their countries of origin. This is a call for empathy.

7.     The Cuba opening by Obama is seen as an albatross around Democrat’s necks.

8.     The encrypted conversations on social media – and the not so encrypted ones, hiding in plain sight on Spanish language media— included participants peddling outlandish conspiracy theories and allegations, even from foreign countries of origin, never adequately answered.

The Democratic Party believes itself to be the party of the minorities, which leads to a mistaken belief that “demographics is destiny” as the nation heads towards a minority majority country.  The 2016 election shifted this (arrogantly self-righteous) pathway to hegemony, because it changed the electorate. It made people, in particular alienated, disenfranchised, left-behind people, feel like they actually could have a say in the way government works. This segment of the electorate is broad based and multi-ethnic, often men (which increased participation), and is made of people that want to believe in America. They look at their cornfields, their blue mountains, their orange groves, their tractors and their factories and have a vision of what America can be – and want to be a part of it. They are not deplorables; and include minorities.

The Trump strategy of self-identifying with American symbols, from the flag to the anthem, is a typically simple populist ploy with appeal to an electorate yearning to identify with America. Anecdotes on how after his defeat many people felt they could be proud of the flag again, indicate that this tactic worked.  While America is part of a global community, the Republican strategy of separating love for America and “globalists” was successful, albeit deceitful, and first generation immigrants by definition love America.

Some of these voters may have ugly biases and shortsighted interests. Some may have a skewed sense of values, easy prey to snake oil salesmen selling their version of the Constitution, America or of the enemy. But the results of the 2016 election made them believe their vote could be counted and they were surprised by that—that’s why they came out in force in 2020. What these voters mostly have in common is that they felt alienated from the political process, but no longer. The establishment’s reaction to Trump made them believe they are being heard at long last; that it was a reaction to their action. The Democratic Party, if it wants to maintain its relevance and win elections, should listen to these voices, because their vote matters. The Latino electorate includes disaffected Americans that believe the system must change and that the establishment, personified in the media, the “deep state” and the traditional parties are the ones that have not given them a fighting chance. Many of these voted for Trump and what he represents in this worldview. Others have not voted, yet.

To believe that the Latino bloc does not share a common vision of America as a better place, under rule of law and equal opportunity for all is mistaken, and obvious when phrased that way. That is the message that has not been transmitted by the Democratic Party. That is the message it wants to transmit, but has been muddled by so many caveats that voters with no time for polls and less for policy discussions easily switch to emotional shortcuts: “MAGA”, “socialism,” “pedophiles” and other such paths to cerebral short circuits and base instincts. It is not a question of engaging in dialogue with these voters, it is a question of understanding they also want America to thrive and carry them along with her. It is a vision of success for America that needs to be shared.

The supposed failure of the Democratic Party’s outreach towards the Latino vote is a symptom of a blindness towards the electorate in general. In searching to segment its messaging to blocs, the Party has failed to see the bigger picture that 2016 clearly presaged: there is a new electorate. Blocs exist within it, of course, but an overarching messaging is not embraced, a message with a vision for all Americans, not only a segment of them. Biden’s “Fair Shot” message, that ultimate vision of the Democratic Party, was good enough to deliver the Presidency but did not trickle down to the precincts, where necessary local fights wallowing in misinformation obscured that ultimate goal. As the first five points of the informal survey taken suggest, the broader inclusion of Latinos as Americans with American problems, seemed to lack in the Democratic 2020 election Latino outreach strategy; and probably with other voters too.

In this new hypersensitive era of intolerance, divisions play out in a manner that undermines the messaging of a common vision for America and gives opportunists ammunition for smear tactics. To strengthen our democracy an effort needs to be made by all to understand the ‘Americanness” of the new electorate, find a common vision capturing the newly arisen civic energy across voting blocs, and achieve the art of the possible in America’s path towards a more Perfect Union.

Carlos J. Rangel

Monday, November 9, 2020


When I first started reading “Find the Helpers,” by Fred Guttenberg, I was unsure about what to expect. Because of an unthinkable tragedy, Fred has become a welcomed face and loud voice advocating common sense gun control. But before that happened, I knew his daughter Jaime and his wife Jennifer as regular customers in our dance store. Jaime loved to dance and she did something about it. She had dreams and dedication, a powerful combination.

We live in a small city next to Parkland, in Coral Springs, and the dance and entertainment community, despite its high profile, is always relatively small. Four fatal victims of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas murders were or had been regular customers at our store. The father of one of our customers died in the tragedy too. A murdered boy was a close friend to one of our employees. We were hit hard, it was emotional and gut wrenching, but not as hard as for any of the survivor families. My father died unexpectedly from gun violence over thirty years ago. That is a phone call I wish upon no one to receive; it marks you for life. You learn to live with it, you never move on. And you know how it hits when it happens to others.

My wife and I have become closer to Jennifer and Fred since the tragedy and, as I said, I did not know what to expect from the book. It is a personal story of transformation. Fred takes us through the emotional bonds in his life, his failures and successes as an everyday American within a supportive family network. He shares his pain vividly as he tells us about an event that affected us all, 9/11, and how that monstrous attack’s toxic aftermath eventually led to the death of his younger brother, an iconic hero loved by his community of first responders.

-- BANG!!--

A single shot felled Jaime six minutes into the attack, seconds away from bending around a corner into safety. An instant that ended her life after minutes of terror which transformed the lives of many. A devastating blow to any loving family, to sixteen other families who lost a loved one; to another sixteen, those of the seventeen wounded (one family grieved one dead son, while tending their other one at the hospital); and of two others afterwards, suicides brought upon by their PTSD.  A blow changing the life of the thousands of students at MSD and to our cities of Parkland and Coral Springs.

Fred writes about how he picked up most of the pieces to find a new mission in life. From living a normal American life, he realized that our lives are all intertwined and that while the tragedy of 9/11 had brought changes to the way we live a far more deadly force, gun violence, is pervasive and no major regulatory effort is being undertaken to curb it. In fact, quite the contrary, the root of this violence is fed by a supposedly nonprofit civic organization that in reality is a powerful lobbying machine for gun and ammunition manufacturers.

The National Rifle Association is singularly responsible for successfully expanding the massive uncontrolled sale and distribution of guns and ammunition in the United States and, increasingly, abroad. The NRA has transformed the Second Amendment into a marketing slogan and, on every occasion they have, they stoke fears and animosity to urge people to buy more, buy more, buy more guns and bullets. That is their purpose: to be a commercial, highly profitable enterprise cloaking itself in an extreme interpretation of the Constitution. That is why they oppose any possible restrictive measure related to responsible gun ownership. They want to sell more.

At first a pained cynic, Fred finds in the receptivity to his message from the public, politicians and media, solace and support for his mission: “I’m going to break that fucking gun lobby”. He has found helpers. He almost surprises himself when this world actually listens to him and that many have the same goals as he does, confronting an inertia which can only be qualified as irresponsibly divisive and toxic. Fred pushes against that inertia, he is an advocate now.

Fred has made a journey through life that has shaped his mission. After deeply personal tragedies he found helpers out there. From a stranger on the street that called his family to let them know his brother was okay on 9/11, to a helper personified in the now President Elect, Joe Biden, comforting him by giving him a sense of purpose shortly after Jaime was brutally and senselessly murdered.

Fred wants us to know that when we are at our most distraught and downtrodden, there are helpers out there. If we open our eyes and ears we will see them, find them. And that from the deepest tragedies and downfalls we can rebuild and be part of our community, never forgetting, but with a new drive and purpose, becoming helpers too.

This deeply personal book has a message for us all and it is a message of love. We are better when we are together. Our communities thrive through our bonds with it, common kindness and common sense. We carry on our shoulders the love and spirit of those that have left us, driving us to build better todays for everyone and to fight against the forces trying to break us. As the love of Fred for Jaime drives him to spread this message of love throughout the world, our community and my family wants to let him know we love him and his family back. Thanks for all you do.

Fred Guttenberg
Mango Publishing, Coral Gables, 2020

Available through Orange Ribbons for Jaime



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