Bouie: Language is Not the Democrats' Problem

Historians in the News
tags: Republican Party, political history, Latino/a history

After Donald Trump and the Republican Party made gains among Black and Hispanic voters in the 2020 presidential election, a chorus of voices emerged to blame the outcome on Democratic messaging.

Democrats, went the argument, were too “woke,” too preoccupied with “identity politics,” too invested in slogans like “defund the police” and too eager to embrace the language of the activist left. Terms like “BIPOC” (an acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and especially “Latinx” alienated the working-class Black and Hispanic voters who shifted to Trump in key states like Florida and North Carolina.

It makes sense that this is where the conversation turned. People who work with words — journalists, commentators and political professionals — are naturally interested in the impact of messaging and language on voters.

At the same time, it is important to remember that language does not actually structure politics. Yes, a political message can persuade voters or, on the other end, help them rationalize their choices. And yes, a political message can be effective or ineffective. But we should not mistake this for a causal relationship.


There is also the longstanding effort by Republicans to mobilize Hispanic conservatives for the Republican Party. “For the past half century,” the historian Geraldo Cadava writes in “The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump,” “Hispanic Republicans and the Republican Party have been deliberate and methodical in their mutual, sometimes hesitant, embrace.” Beliefs about relations with Latin America, about “the United States as the protector of freedom in the world” and about “market-driven capitalism as the best path to upward mobility” have helped Republicans build a durable bulwark among Hispanic voters, one that the Trump campaign built on with focused and sustained outreach.

Entangled in these social and economic transformations is a longstanding and potent American ideology that slots some people as “makers” and others as “takers,” to use Mitt Romney’s off-the-cuff language to donors during his presidential campaign in 2012. Although traditionally associated with whiteness and masculinity, this “producerism” holds sway and currency across the electorate. That’s part of why candidates in both parties scramble to associate themselves with blue-collar workers and why some Democratic proponents of the social safety net insist that their policies provide a “hand up, not a handout.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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