Donald Trump might be a xenophobic and racist demagogue, but the people who chant “Viva Mexico!” and wave Mexican flags at anti-Trump rallies across the United States are doing him a big favor.
Over the past two weeks, there have been incidents in San Diego, Anaheim, Albuquerque and other U.S. cities in which some anti-Trump protesters have waved Mexican flags.
Needless to say, Trump supporters and some conservative media have made the most of this, portraying it as evidence to support their prejudices that most Mexican Americans are somehow not American, or are even anti-American.
“The protesters in New Mexico were thugs who were flying the Mexican flag,” Trump tweeted after the May 24 protests that turned violent and left several policemen injured in Albuquerque. “The rally inside was big and beautiful, but outside, criminals.”
Hours later, many conservative commentators had a field day, portraying anti-Trump protesters as violent thugs.
“Mexican flag-waving mob attacks police, horses outside a Trump rally,” screamed a headline on the conservative website dailycaller.com. A similar foxnews.com column at first erroneously reported that the protesters had burned an American flag and was then corrected to point out that they had set ablaze a Trump campaign banner that included red and white stripes.
Many Latino leaders I talked to downplayed the Mexican flags at anti-Trump rallies as desperate reactions by Latinos who are tired of being insulted on a daily basis by Trump.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has called most Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals” and energizes his audiences by lying to them that there is an avalanche of Mexican “illegals” who are flooding into the United States. (In fact, U.S. Census figures show that the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico has fallen significantly since 2008.)
If Trump sows hatred, he should expect to harvest some desperate, irrational actions by the people he insults, the argument goes.
A variation of this theme is that people who wave Mexican flags at anti-Trump rallies are showing pride in their heritage rather than allegiance to Mexico.
“The way in which some people show pride in their ethnic background is by raising the flag of their heritage,” says Fernand Amandi, a Hispanic-community pollster for Univision. “If Trump attacked Italian Americans or Irish Americans in the same way, these groups would raise Italian or Irish flags just the same.”
In a way, it’s not too different from what happens at U.S.-Mexico soccer matches, where many Mexicans and some Mexican Americans wave Mexican flags. But German immigrants and others do the same, and it’s mostly a phenomenon of first-generation migrants, the argument goes.
Most often, second-generation Mexican immigrants speak mostly English and consider themselves Americans of Mexican heritage.
Finally, a third argument by those who downplay the Mexican flag waving at anti-Trump protests is that they are isolated events, usually by teenagers who don’t know any better. And most often it’s just one or two youngsters among hundreds or thousands of protesters, they say.
My opinion: These explanations might be true, but showing Mexican flags at anti-Trump rallies is foolish and counterproductive. It bolsters Trump’s narrative that the United States is supposedly being taken over by “illegals,” which he repeats daily despite having been told a thousand times that it’s not true.
In fact, Trump’s proposal to deport up to 11 million undocumented workers and put a 35 percent tariff on Mexican cars would make everything in the United States more expensive and cause a trade war that would cost millions of U.S. jobs, much like the trade war that led to the 1930s depression.
Latino leaders and Spanish-language TV networks and radio stations should urge demonstrators to carry American flags to anti-Trump protests, much like California DJs did during the term of former Gov. Pete Wilson – an anti-immigration politician – in the late 1990s. Or, if they wish, they should carry Mexican and U.S. flags, bound together.
They should make the point that Mexican Americans are as American as Trump, if not more: They pay taxes (we don’t know whether Trump does, because he has yet to show his latest tax returns) and a significant number of them serve in the U.S. military, something that Trump has never done.
If some protesters still raise Mexican flags, they should be told by their fellow protesters to put them down, unless they want a racist to become the next U.S. president.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.