President's Message: Trump's First Year in Office
A little more than a year ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. The intervening weeks and months have been, with little question, the most challenging, discouraging, and dangerous in the last four decades of American history. Guided by unbridled extremism, President Trump's first year has been characterized by assaults on America's values and interests with regards to immigration, the economy, Puerto Rico, voting rights and, perhaps most disconcertingly, our unity as a nation. Here are just some of the reasons why.
Immigration: Candidate Trump campaigned on a platform of baseless and incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric. President Trump has turned rhetoric into reality. Starting with his infamous Muslim ban, President Trump has launched draconian measures that have forced immigrants deeper into the shadows, tossing tens of thousands into detention centers, keeping children from reuniting with parents, and denying due process protections for asylum seekers. Most recently, Trump ordered the end of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans, Haitians and El Salvadorans, and threw the status of thousands of Hondurans into limbo. Not since the 1920s has the United States pursued such punitive and callous immigration policies. Yet nothing has produced more outrage than the president's cruel decision last September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for 800,000 young people, many whose lives will be at stake if deported. Overall, Trump's policies are targeted attacks on immigrants whose religion and skin color are offensive to him and his cabinet members. In promoting these actions, he is ensuring that his administration's immigration policies will be remembered as some of the most shameful in American history.
The Economy: It's easy to look superficially at our national economy, as President Trump regularly does, and say that unemployment is down and job growth is up because of this presidency. But, as a recent Washington Post article highlighted, "by almost every economic measure, the upward trends Trump cites began while Obama was still in office."
What is real is the fact that President Trump has skewed the economy for the wealthiest one percent of Americans while pulling the rug from low-income and middle-class families. Trump has fought against overtime restrictions for workers, gutted the Department of Labor and crippled job-training programs. And yet, the worst may still be yet to come. Working with Republican leaders in Congress, the president signed into law a bill that dramatically lowers taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans under the fantastical premise that tax savings will "trickle down" to ordinary citizens. By doing so, the President and Republican congressional members have set us on a course to significant reductions in the social safety net programs that low-income and middle-class families most depend on: Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Add to this the law's stealthy sabotaging of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped keep millions of Americans healthy and financially solvent, and it's easy to see why so many in our communities are watching the president's economic agenda with so much dread.
Puerto Rico: On Election Night, President Trump pledged that he would be "President for all Americans," yet days after Hurricane Maria, Trump was still disengaged from the island's growing humanitarian crisis. After being roundly condemned for his lack of response, he lashed out, saying the people of Puerto Rico "want everything done for them." In fact, within a week of Hurricane Harvey's landfall, Trump had sent 31,000 federal workers to Texas. For Maria, the federal force peaked at around 15,000. Out of Trump's $36.5 billion disaster-relief package, only $1.2 billion was earmarked for Puerto Rico. Because of this unconscionable neglect, and with many still without electricity or the most basic of necessities, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have been forced to resettle in Florida, New York and other states, creating grave shortages in housing and schools. It's infuriating that neither President Trump nor Congressional Republicans want to help Puerto Rico during its time of greatest need and pass Marshall Plan-type legislation to rebuild the island in a way that's sustainable, modern, and just.
Voting Rights: Who can forget President Trump's absurd insistence that, but for millions of illegal voters he would have easily won the popular vote in 2016? Less amusing was Trump's creation of the Election Integrity Commission, led by anti-immigrant activist Kris Kobach, to launch a campaign that targeted Latino voters in looking for "voter fraud," even though these claims have been discredited for years. Thankfully, enough state officials rejected this federal overreach and the EIC was disbanded. That may have been a victory for voting rights, but it's clear that the president has every intention of making voting more difficult and will use the considerable power of the Department of Justice to support state-level voter restrictions that have proven highly effective in keeping Latino and other American voters from the ballot box.
National Unity: During his inauguration, President Trump invoked the Book of Psalms, saying "how good and pleasant it is when God's people live in unity." Unfortunately, over the past twelve months the president has done little to unite our nation, and everything to divide us, in the process diminishing the office of the presidency. Most disconcerting has been his corrosive and vulgar language: his attacks on a free press, his penchant for humiliating friend and foe alike, his naked embrace of white nationalism, and his racist beliefs, which were illustrated most recently when he labeled Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as "sh-hole countries." Trump has offered a dark vision for our nation which indicates that our country's diversity is a negative, and patriotic dissent rooted in reason and fact are tantamount to treason. We cannot ignore these assaults on civic comity because they threaten the very nature of our democracy and the unity of our multi-ethnic nation.
Unfortunately, 2018 promises little relief. Our national government has already shutdown because the president and Congressional Republicans are unwilling to stand up for our DACA youth. But if the coming year promises to bring grave challenges from this administration, it does offer some important opportunities to fight back, to resist. The good news is that we aren't alone in this fight. The shared experience of coming under attack from the White House has strengthened the bonds that unite people of color, women, immigrants, the working classes, religious minorities, organized labor, and the LGBTQ community. Our work has broader implications today than ever before. At the Hispanic Federation, we are partnering with sister organizations across the country to get our communities out to vote for the mid-term elections, and working with local and state governments to protect important advances in health care and immigrant rights. We have made common cause with other Americans who feel similarly that something is fundamentally un-American about this administration. In trying to divide us, President Trump has compelled us to hold on more tightly to one another.
We know that we face a difficult road before us but we also know that our families and communities are resilient, and that by working together we can turn the tide and make possible an America that is great again.