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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

The Enemy of the People: News Reporters

Of the many dangers represented by the tyrant in the White House, his poisoning of the free press is the most frightening. The “fake news” mantra was bad enough, as it encouraged his disciplines to believe in him instead of demonstrated facts. But now he has moved beyond even that, goading his thugs literally to attack reporters. You probably saw the video of him in Montana, praising a Republican congressman who assaulted a reporter. “Any kind of guy who can do a body slam,” he shouted, “that’s my kind of guy.” If a Democrat said that, he would be pilloried as inciting a riot.

And these are the same ignoramuses who loved to proclaim their devotion to the Constitution. There’s a reason why the Founding Fathers put freedom of the press in the very first paragraph of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. They knew from experience with King George II and his colonial governors that the first move authoritarians make is to shut down the press (in Hitler’s day, the radio and movie theaters; today, TV cameras, the internet, etc.).

By placing media freedom into America’s fundamental governing document, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and others were consciously honoring the sacrifice that journalist Peter Zenger made when the government of New York shut down his newspaper in 1735. And, I should add, the sacrifices that his wife, Anna Maulin Zenger, made: she published the paper for the year that he languished in prison and continued it after his death. Let me also add that Zenger was an immigrant: his first language was Dutch, and he came to America as a very poor indentured servant.

Anna Maulin was better off, but also a German immigrant -- and Donald Trump has made it clear that immigrants are a class of people despises. Except, of course, for his first wife, who was born in what then was Czechoslovakia, and his third wife, who grew up in the former Yugoslavia. And it’s no wonder that we often see the first lady, but seldom hear her: I’ve done so only once, but that was enough to reveal a very strong Eastern European accent. Because his base disapproves of Europeans as well as immigrants, they keep her under wraps.

Naming the Enemy

Another of the president’s anti-immigrant rants is his repeated but unexplained references to MS-13, so I decided to research that. Specifically, I was wondering why I’ve never heard about MS-1 through 12. What I learned is that the gang is not Mexican, as he implies, but instead is home-grown. Nor is it new. It began in Los Angeles in the 1980s – the time and place of Ronald Reagan’s “law and order” slogans. Instead of Mexico, MS-13’s original members were refugees from El Salvador, where Reagan acolyte Oliver North promoted a horrific civil war from the White House basement. This war was not approved by Congress, and its funding was secret. The mainstream press, awed by the actor president, did not ask nearly enough questions.

So it turns out that there is no MS-1 through 12, and there are a couple of explanations for 13. One is that new gang members are subjected to a 13-second beating. Another is that the proper name is “Mara Salvatrucha,” and “M” is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. More logically, the etymology may be based in a native language of Central America (as opposed to Spanish) in which “mara” means “gang.” “Salva” explains itself – remember Kris Kristofferson’s phrase, “They named it for the Savior, don’t you know?” --while “trucha” translates to something like “stay alert.” There also may be a connection to “marabunta,” an especially fierce fire ant. Again, most members are not Mexican, but instead are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala – all places where our CIA has been meddling on behalf of dictators since the 1950s.

The final point is that these people – mostly young men -- want to belong to something, to identify with a group. The same is true of many of the thugs who worship Trump, such as the new Proud Boys. This yen to belong also was true of Hitler Youth and other fascists; they resented the fact that they lost the First World War and were easily encouraged to attack innocent Jews and other liberals to prove themselves to their gang. It’s true of most of the rebels in the Middle East, who have understandable grievances against colonialism and current dictatorial governments that too often are supported by former colonialists. What these young men need is leadership from grown-ups who understand their past and can help them deal with their confused resentments.

They won’t find that in the current White House, but we can elect a Congress that might begin to address the deeper issues that motivate cruelty and crime. We could start by immediately correcting the family-values sin that separates loved ones at the Texas border. If Beto O’Rourke is able to defeat Ted Cruz, that would be a huge signal of a more compassionate America. Sending a donation to Beto might be the best thing you could do to kill MS-13. Hope, not hate.

Everything is More Complicated than You Think

You may not believe it, but I am thoroughly tired of politics and eager for this election to be over -- so I intended to write about something completely different. I changed my mind mid-course, though, because timeliness is important. This is the second-to-last column before the election, so I decided to add a few more words about the 1918 midterm elections, exactly a hundred years ago. I wrote a bit on that recently, motivated by students doing a National History Day project on feminist leader Carrie Chapman Catt. Now my motivation is someone who posted a comment on Daily Kos, the online news source I read every day.

Many of its volunteer writers clearly are young and full of themselves – but that’s okay, as this is a stage we move through on the way to maturity (except for some, like many of those in charge today, who never matured and remain blissfully ignorant and boastful into their old age). Anyway, this Daily Kos contributor said that Trump was making a mistake in nationalizing the election. The president has told his rally audiences that a vote for – let’s say Ron and Rick – is a vote for him. The writer thought that Trumpsters would find this offensive, as he thinks that people care more about issues nearer to them.

The writer compared it to the 1918 election, when Woodrow Wilson nationalized the campaign. Wilson traveled the country by train, stopping frequently to talk about World War I – which ended on November 11, 1918, just days after the election. The Daily Kos writer opined that Democrat Wilson lost the Congress to Republicans because of this attention to international issues instead of the local issues that appeal to parochial voters. I don’t think so. For one thing, although Wilson narrowly won his own re-election in 1916, his Democratic Party lost seats in Congress, so it already had a Republican majority.

It’s also important to remember that the 1914 midterms were the first time that (mostly male) voters directly elected their US senators: prior to that, senators were chosen by state legislatures. That was a major cause of corruption and disruption, and adding the constitutional amendment that changed it is a much under-discussed contribution to democracy. I think it may be under-discussed because everyone wants to think that the Founding Fathers created a true democracy: they did not. The only eligible voters at the time had to be not only white and male, but also Christian and propertied. The vast majority of Americans did not vote until the 15th Amendment enfranchised black men and the 19th Amendment enfranchised all women. In between, the 17th Amendment allowed voters to have a say in the choice of their US senators.

That was implemented in 1914, but another reason I like to ponder the 1914 elections is because it provides a rare example of lunatic leftists being successful. Yes, although pure of heart, leftists can be much less than politically sagacious. They may win the long-term war, but their strategies cause them to lose many battles along the way. In 1914, the radical portion of the women’s movement was led by Alice Paul and her “Iron-Jawed Angels.” She and some of her supporters were educated in Britain, and they applied that political model to the US, even though it was irrelevant.

US presidents have nothing to do with constitutional amendments: they are adopted by 2/3 of both houses of Congress and ratified by ¾ of state legislatures. President Woodrow Wilson thus had no role in the amendment for women’s right to vote, but modeling the British system that targets the prime minister and his party, Alice Paul’s Woman’s Party targeted the president and his party. These mostly young women went to the nine western states where women could vote and campaigned in the 1914 elections against Democrats because Wilson was a Democrat. They succeeded in defeating 20 Democratic congressmen who supported their cause.

Mary Baird Bryan (Mrs. William Jennings Bryan), who retired to Miami, believed that Alice Paul actually was an agent for the Republican Party. In any case, an older, smarter Carrie Chapman Catt of the mainstream feminist organization rectified Paul’s mistake in the 1918 midterms. She needed just two Senate votes to obtain the 2/3 required, and she targeted four states with incumbent senators who opposed women’s right to vote. She chose Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey because they were geographically small, thus lowering campaign costs -- but the votes of those senators would be equal to those of any other state.

New Hampshire and New Jersey (Alice Paul’s home) typically voted Republican, and in both cases, the Republican nominees were opposed to women’s enfranchisement. Women lost both – but won in Massachusetts, where a Democrat defeated the incumbent Republican, and in Delaware, where the partisan situation was reversed. A Democrat who opposed women’s rights lost to a Republican who supported the vote. The 1918 election thus was key to female freedom, and if we had not nationalized the election and instead waited for (mostly Southern) congressmen whose priority was to bringing home the local bacon, we still would be waiting.

So, as I said, everything is more complicated than it appears, and a strategy that maybe right for one election year could be wrong for another one. But Trump really has no choice except to nationalize this year’s election because (1) that’s the only way he can be the big cheese; (2) too many of his disciplines – ala Ron DeSantis – don’t know anything except the memorized talking points of the national party; and (3) many of his supporters couldn’t find state or local issues with a list of them. They like to dress up and play soldier, and that doesn’t work when the enemy is red tide.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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