Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinions on CNN.
When in doubt, blame brown people. That’s what one leading voice on the right is doing in response to the fallout over President Donald Trump’s disastrous summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
In an interview with “The Five,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said that Russia had sought to meddle in US affairs. But he asserted that other countries, such as Mexico, have been more successful in doing so. “I don’t think Russia is our close friend or anything like that. I think of course they try to interfere in our affairs. They have for a long time. Many countries do. Some more successfully than Russia, like Mexico, which is routinely interfering in our elections by packing our electorate.”
Nice try. This is Carlson’s attempt to deflect attention from the national outrage over Trump casting doubt on the US intelligence community’s determination that Russia meddled in our 2016 election.
Like him or not, Carlson is an extremely influential conservative. As the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in Fox’s prime-time lineup (a show on which I have appeared), he regularly rails against undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities. He has been a strong supporter of Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.
That this brand of racism is still alive and well speaks volumes about the state of conservative thought in the age of Trump. American citizens of Hispanic descent who are voting are participating in democracy. And for the record, there is no evidence to support Carlson’s claims.
Besides being false, Carlson’s comments are insidious because they go back to the tired trope of “illegals” being somehow responsible for everything that ails America, from social ills to violent crime. This line of thought is hardly new or novel. After he won the presidency, Trump falsely claimed that “millions” of illegal voters cost him the popular vote; a commission set up to investigate such supposed massive voter fraud was disbanded in January without finding any real evidence of corrupt elections.
Now Carlson seems to be crossing a line by suggesting that the true threat to American democracy is not Russia or Putin’s agents but Hispanic voters. This is an astonishing claim. To vote in our elections, a person must be a US citizen. It sounds like Carlson is not pleased with the idea of his fellow citizens – who might happen to be of Mexican origin – voting. How is that idea not offensive, to the 8 million people born in Latin America who are now US citizens? Carlson’s sentiments should be offensive to all Americans – especially the thousands of Hispanic-Americans who have served in the US military.
Then again, Carlson’s response to the family separation crisis at the border last month was to insist that liberal elites are trying “to change your country forever.”
It is telling that Carlson made his comments about Mexico influencing our elections without citing any data to back it up. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. According to the Pew Research Center, migration from Mexico to the United States has been trending downward since the 1990s. From 2005 to 2010, Mexican migration between the United States and Mexico was negative, with about 20,000 more leaving than entering. This trend accelerated between 2009 and 2014, with more people (140,000) leaving the United States for Mexico than arriving. These numbers are not consistent with Carlson’s claim that Mexico is “packing our electorate.”
Data aside, if Mexico really were successfully “packing our electorate,” would Trump be President? Probably not. And would there be innumerable news features about low Latino voter turnout? Um, no.
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With his remarks, Carlson is simply engaging in fearmongering, in the hope of turning attention away from Trump’s widely panned summit with Putin. How embarrassing it is that an educated, experienced news anchor such as Carlson is further devolving into baseless attacks on Latinos. How truly sad it is that Carlson views the Hispanic electorate as a threat, rather than an asset, to the country. And how desperate he seems in blaming Mexico for problems that began in Moscow.
Of course, Carlson does not always have the wrong idea. Earlier this year, he said on-air that, “When the concerns of foreigners takes precedence over the needs of Americans, our government is betraying us and has become illegitimate. Of course, that’s exactly what’s been happening.”
Carlson was speaking about the debate over immigration policy. Yet if you apply his comments to our current relationship with Russia, they actually make perfect sense.