For Junot Díaz, the rise of Donald Trump and his politics of xenophobia in the US presidential race are nothing new. In fact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author sees Trump everywhere — in the contemporary anti-immigrant policies of his native Dominican Republic, in the widespread bashing of refugees in Europe. And yet, he remains hopeful that people will figure out that building walls and kicking immigrants out won’t solve anything.
Díaz will speak Monday at the 20th Annual Immigrants’ Day celebration at the State House. Ideas caught up with him near his office at MIT.
Below is an edited excerpt.
IDEAS: Do you know any Trump supporters personally, like really know them?
IDEAS: Do you think that’s a problem?
DÍAZ: No, because the people I know who would support Trump are keeping their mouths shut. I know a number of people who — from the comments they make — are going to vote for Trump when that curtain closes. But let’s keep it real honest here: They are voting for a xenophobic, anti-Latino white supremacist — don’t try to pretty it up. This is now the age when people want to be white supremacists, but they don’t actually want to be known for it. I prefer the 1950s where people were like, “I’m a white supremacist, and that’s who I am.” Now people want to burn a cross on your lawn and call themselves not racists.
IDEAS: And in comes Trump to validate these feelings . . .
DÍAZ: But they’ve always had permission. Now people like Susan Sarandon are noticing that people of color live this way?! This is the way I’ve always lived! What’s happened is that it has now reached a level of national discourse where it’s on the table. But they’ve never minded that we were treated like this off-stage. Trump is taking America’s dirty laundry to the center stage. Everything he does, the rest of the country already does really well: victimize immigrants, poor people, women. This country wants to live in the illusion that it is tolerant but also wants to be able to practice intolerance.
IDEAS: Does that explain the rise of Trump?
DÍAZ: It’s part of it. There’s a long-term tradition of white supremacy in this country. Trump isn’t something entirely new. But then there is the crisis for white supremacy in this country now where you have people of color standing up for themselves in ways that they’ve never stood up for themselves or at least standing up for themselves in a generational, novel way.
Trump is explained with the intersection of a number of things: our economic crisis, the way it’s easier to blame immigrants, with the happenstance that he discovered that by bashing Latino immigrants and characterizing them as “rapists” and “murderers” and “scumbags,” suddenly he’s got this groundswell of support from a group of people who were raised on this vocabulary. Part of it is eight years of a black president, and white America still lost their [minds] about that. Part of it is a Republican politics of vicious, vicious partisan [stuff] that has completely poisoned what we would call the political rhetorical sphere. All of these things come together in a perfect storm.
But, again, I think it’s not uncommon. Trump is what happens in America every time it feels economically and politically threatened, and it encounters the limitations of its own white supremacists practices.
IDEAS: Have you considered leaving the country if Trump becomes president?
DÍAZ: Look, I came up under Reagan and under Bush, and what are we to do now? We are here to fight. People can run off all they want. But for me, Trump is already in the Dominican Republic. The idea that America has cornered the market on anti-immigration is ridiculous. It’s a global phenomenon. The anti-immigrant logic has basically saturated our world. I’m staying, and I’m fighting.
IDEAS: Do you support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?
DÍAZ: Neither of them is an ideal candidate for me. I’m part of the people who are more neutral. I’m just waiting for the dust to settle so that we can turn our guns against the Republicans. For me, the battle isn’t Hillary vs. Sanders. And I understand that for some people that’s the battle. But for me, more than anything, it’s stopping a Republican president.
IDEAS: What is your biggest disappointment about Obama?
DÍAZ: That he deported everybody and their grandmother.
IDEAS: Is it going to get worse?
DÍAZ: I don’t know. We can speculate. Last time I checked, the future doesn’t take my advice.