I hardly recognize America these days. The same country that was built by immigrants is on the verge of handing the Republican presidential nomination to Donald Trump, who wants to deport 11 million immigrants within two years. This doesn’t seem like the same nation that welcomed me over 30 years ago, and so many other immigrants since then.
How to explain the Trump phenomenon? Easily: Tens of thousands of Americans share his racist views of Hispanic immigrants and Muslims. And Trump is normalizing what used to be socially unacceptable behavior. We seem to be entering a strange era in American history where publicly expressing ignorance and prejudice is just fine. And now, the demons are on the loose. I know this partly because I’ve never received so many insults on social media as recently (and I expect to get more after this column is published).
It used to be that any presidential candidate would have been disqualified for denigrating women, labeling an ethnic group as criminals or discriminating against a particular faith. But not today.
This election cycle will be remembered, of course, for Trump’s outbursts and extremism—but also because, for the first time in history, two major Latino candidates were in the running: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They both suffered from what I’ll call the Trump effect: They tried to follow his example too closely.
I’ll never understand how two sons of immigrants decided to turn their backs on other immigrants (Rubio’s mother and father were born in Cuba, as was Cruz’s father). Cruz, a Texas senator, supported the deportation of 11 million immigrants, just like Trump. Rubio, a senator from Florida who once helped plan a path toward legalization for undocumented immigrants, inexplicably turned against it during the campaign. Meanwhile, both Rubio and Cruz broke with a long, noble tradition among Hispanic politicians, no matter their party affiliation: Always defend the most vulnerable population in this country: the undocumented.
During the primary debates, it was sad to watch Cruz and Rubio bicker over who held the most anti-immigrant position. Their desire to insult people and dominate debates like Trump obscured their strong leadership traits. Rubio and Cruz wanted very badly to be just like The Donald, but (thankfully) there’s only one.
Now that their presidential campaigns are over, what’s next for Cruz and Rubio? Losers in American politics often follow a path of atonement in hopes of redeeming themselves and their relevance. First they confess their failings in public, then they do an act of contrition and vow never to commit their sins again. Finally, they return as though they were reborn.
Both Rubio and Cruz will undergo this penance process, since both are too talented and smart to quit politics after just one fall, no matter how deafening it was. And they’re both still young enough (Rubio is 44; Cruz, 45) to be wrong several more times. They might run in 2020, 2024, 2028 or until they get into the White House—time is on their side. And so are the demographics: Every month, more than 60,000 young Hispanics turn 18, and in three decades’ time, there will be more than 100 million Latinos living in the U.S.—an indisputable electoral force.
However, I know many Hispanics who wish that they could have elected either Rubio or Cruz as the nation’s first Hispanic president this time around. But the Cuban-American senators’ anti-immigration stance was just too much to bear.
Politics is brutal. It can transform the sons of immigrants into spokesmen for a movement that unjustly blames immigrants for economic and security woes. But here’s a lesson for the next election cycle: In the end, it’s always better to be true to yourself and able to look your loved ones directly in the eye. Cruz and Rubio had a chance to be our community’s heroes, but instead they decided they wanted to be like the villain. So they lost. Twice.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s weekly television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest book is: “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”