Trump and Caribbean Xenophobia: The United States and the Dominican Republic

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The election of Donald Trump unleashed efforts to demonize immigrants, resembling the height of xenophobia in the twentieth century. While his attacks on immigrants, particularly Mexican immigrants, have come with a religious-like zeal, unfortunately, Trump’s rhetoric is nothing new in the United States. Quite the opposite, Trump’s use of old tropes and stereotypes to bolster a fear of immigrants can be traced to the birth of this Republic and subsequent resurgences. What is unique about this wave of xenophobia is the timing. It comes on the heels of major demographic and ideological shifts in American society that have been slowly forging a more diverse, tolerant, multicultural, and globalized nation. These changes were demonstrated by the 2008 presidential election of young Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois), who seemed to represent the new face of America; in sharp contrast with his opponent, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who by his age, race, and political beliefs, was perceived as part of the old political generation. Obama’s winning coalition included women, young voters, communities of color, progressive whites, urbanites, the college educated, and moderates yearning for change. However, left in the wake of Obama’s victory were groups that traditionally rallied around conservative causes: middle-aged and older white men, people living in rural and small-town America, blue collar workers, religious fundamentalists, and individuals without college degrees. For the former, change was good and desirable, whereas for the latter, change was perceived as upending their lives and rendering their country unrecognizable. As the political pendulum swung back in 2016, Trump’s perceived courage and “tell it like it is” attitude further encouraged the views of these disenfranchised voters. During the Obama administration, many working-class white men felt that they were disadvantaged and emasculated by a system that seemingly lavished “unwarranted” perks on women, people of color, and immigrants. For them, Trump represented their last hope and immigrants were a safe target for their frustration.