By now, the world knows that Donald Trump is neither afraid nor ashamed to resort to racism in his bid to become the next President of the United States. “The Donald” aims his words and insults at an expanding base of supporters, a so-called “silent majority” of American voters who support his hateful, anti-immigrant platform. But how silent are Trump supporters? Are they a real Silent Majority? Does that make undocumented immigrants, fearing the prospect of deportation in a Trump presidency, a silenced minority under fire?
Who’s really being silenced?
To answer that, it helps to know where the concept of a “silent majority” comes from.
The term originated in the seventeenth century, but became a political buzzword in the the Vietnam era. It was widely popularized by Nixon in a 1969 speech where he appealed to the “silent majority” who he believed to fully support the Vietnam war. To Nixon this was white, middle-class America. It wasn’t the famed counterculture of the feminist or black power movements and wide opposition to the war. Nixon’s audience was politically inactive conservatives whose traditional values were being silenced, he felt, by anti-war protestors.
They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
That was then, and this is now. Has anything changed? The relevance of Trump’s “silent majority” is frightening. His is the same white voter base appealed to by “Tricky Dick” Nixon. Trump supporters represent the far-right GOP base, a mass of white conservatives thrilled at Trump’s dismissal of political correctness and chomping at the bit to “take [their] country back.”
They’re hardly silent.
It’s unclear from whom Trump supporters feel their country has been taken or what exactly has made the United States so definitively un-great. Today, the United States has a democratically elected African-American president, a growing and diverse immigrant population, and whites are on a 30 year track to becoming the ethnic minority. Is that what’s not-so-great to Trump supporters?
Perhaps it’s this perceived loss of dominance looming on the horizon that drives his base of white conservatives to heroize a bigot who vows to charge Mexico for an “American Great Wall” to seal the border and block Muslims from entering the country.
In reality, immigrants are the group being silenced. They face harsher deportation policies if Trump triumphs in the election. 11.3 million undocumented immigrants lack the right to vote.
The 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act also left minority voters in the South even more vulnerable to having their political voices silenced. What we saw repealed by the Supreme Court was the portion that had been stopping discriminatory voting laws from taking effect, in areas of the country with histories of disenfranchisement, since 1965. If Trump triumphs, will 45.7 million African-Americans lose their voices too?
The media-amplified loudness of the “silent majority” in itself seeks to be silencing—to silence those who threaten its existence as “majority,” those who’ve fought long and hard, out of necessity, for their voices to be heard.
We need to hear from the real silenced minority.
“The only way that we can fight back,” says Dolores Huerta, Latina civil rights activist and labor leader, “is to make sure that our Latino community turns out to vote.”
Getting latinos to the polls is critical. Today, there are 27.3 million eligible Hispanic voters. That’s 11.9% of all eligible voters. Millennials make up a solid 44% of that. Hispanic voters are also increasing in number, increasingly progressive and college educated. In 2012, millennial Hispanics’ turnout rate fell far below that of most other groups.
Right now, says Brent Wilkes of the League of United Latin American Citizens, about Trump and his GOP base,
we don’t have the microphone. He’s got it. It’s never been a fair fight.”
Will the silenced minority speak up in November?
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“FFF: Black (African-American) History Month: February 2016.” United States Census Bureau. 17 February 2016.
Krogstad, Mauel J. and Passel, Jeffrey S. “5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.” Fact Tank. Pew Research Center. 19 November 2015.
Krogstad, Manuel J. et al. “Millennials Make Up Almost Half of Latino Eligible Voters in 2016.” Hispanic Trends. Pew Research Center. 19 January 2016.
Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act.” The New York Times. 25 June 2015.
Moreno, Carolina. “9 Outrageous Things Donald Trump Has Said About Latinos.” Huffpost Latino Voices. Huffington Post. 31 August 2015.
Morrison, Aaron. “Amid Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Stance, Latino Civil Rights Activists, Celebrities Look To Rally Hispanic Voters In 2016.” International Business Times. 11 February 2016.