In a fit of anger, Donald Trump had decided not to attend a debate among Republicans on the Fox network. Facing that situation, Chris Matthews, a renowned U.S. television journalist, blurted a racist comment on camera: «Who’s going to watch a debate between the two Cuban guys?» Later, he apologized and asked to be forgiven.
Matthews was referring to senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, two of the leading candidates, born of Cuban parents. Rubio’s parents were two hard-working immigrants of modest origin, while Cruz’s parents are a mixed marriage. He is a Cuban engineer turned evangelical minister; she’s an American born in Delaware. Cruz doesn’t even speak Spanish.
As many people said a thousand times, if the debaters had been two Jews, two African-Americans or two elderly white men, Matthews would not have dared to make such a statement. Or if the debaters had been two women, two homosexuals or two clergymen. The «political correction» brake would have functioned automatically and instantaneously.
In any case, the American journalist lied. Neither Rubio nor Cruz is Cuban. They are absolutely American. In their social memory they carry the necessary equipment to assume — in an authentic manner — the identity that this country grants its natural citizens: a thorough knowledge of English, the historical record, the myths and legends, the children’s songs, the literature and the popular culture. Everything.
Except that they have something else. As good natives of this country, they assume the «discourse» of the United States from a certain foreign perspective and influence. That happens always. How much of Ireland was in John F. Kennedy’s American personality? Trump’s grandparents were born in Germany (the original surname was Drumpf) and, although it would make no sense to introduce the candidate as a German-American, why believe that no element of his nature and behavior comes from that origin through learning?
In my opinion, the Cuban nature of Rubio’s and Cruz’s family background, aside from the other major language and culture of the New World (which never hurts), gives them a valuable element from the moral point of view and makes them the carriers of complex personalities, as happens to any person who is raised in an environment shaken by a disturbing experience.
At home, they have heard the tragic stories of a society devastated by totalitarianism and misgovernment — their families were victim of that monstrous way to round up society — and surely they place a special value on individual freedom and the rule of law. They learned that in a place where laws and institutions are not respected everyone is headed for catastrophe.
I suppose that something similar affects Bernie Sanders, who is very familiar with the Holocaust because he’s Jewish. His father lost several Polish relatives during the Nazi barbarity. They were murdered. That hidden scar in Sanders’ heart will surely not encumber him if he becomes president.
He knows, in his own flesh or in the flesh of his ancestors, the danger of dogmatic rulers who are willing to impose their prejudices through blood and fire. That sad baggage, like the one handed down in homes of Cuban origin, is useful when wielding power, especially now that the criminal shadow of the Islamic State falls upon the Middle East.
It is odd that President Obama is seeking his legacy. He’s had it from the day he was elected. He hasn’t been the best president, and no doubt he has made numerous mistakes in his handling of foreign policy, but, along with an unemployment rate below 5 percent, he leaves his country the very important legacy that it broke with the tradition of always sending white males of more or less Anglo-Saxon origin to the White House. He was the first one.
His election clicked into the current U.S. reality, a lot more varied and multicolored, where the old stereotypes no longer fit. That is why in the general elections next November, if Donald Trump’s candidacy is defeated in the Republican primaries (something that many intelligent people fervently wish, for the good of the country) and if the trend of the Iowa primaries continues, the likely confrontation will be between an American of Cuban parents and a woman — or a Jew.
Long live that democratic variety!