William Kelly’s article, “The Cuban revolution explains why younger Cuban Americans supported Trump” discusses how the most recent Cuban U.S. immigrants were projected to be more liberal than their conservative forerunners. To the author’s surprise, data showed that the percentage of conservative Cuban Americans has actually increased in more recent immigrants. Kelly accredited the concentration of Cubans in America’s Republican Party to the economic strife that the immigrants experienced while living in Cuba. The more recent data of Cuban American youth was attributed to the admiration of Donald Trump and his embodiment of “The American Dream” (Kelly, 2020).
Drawing from the information provided by William Kelly and supporting media, I would raise the theory that an emotionally driven partisan attachment and resentment towards the opposing party are substantial factors as to why the majority of Cuban Americans currently identify with the Republican Party. This is not to say that it is wrong for people to be a part of the Republican Party, however it can be dangerous when partisan attachment and resentment towards the opposing partisan identification become so extreme that people will fail to prevent a populist leader from coming into power. Looking at Cuban history provides insight as to why many Cuban Americans hold resentment towards the Democratic Party and choose to identify as Republican.
Kelly introduces the inordinate oppression and material strife that has taken place in Cuba (Kelly, 2020). The economic insecurity experienced by Cubans results in what Inglehart and Norris call ‘materialism’. Materialists base their political decisions based on a need for survival caused by economic insecurity. Post-materialism is said to be more concerned with value issues as a result of economic prosperity (Norris & Inglehart, 2019). The possession of economic stability – or lack of thereof – is a driving factor in whether people choose to vote more liberally or conservatively. Cubans sought refuge in America where they could chase the well-known ‘American Dream’, granting them rights, liberty, and equal opportunity. Present-day, Kelly describes how many Cuban Americans view Donald Trump as the end-goal of the American Dream through the narrative he has constructed of himself of being “a shrewd entrepreneur who controls a vast business empire, self-sufficient and beholden to no one (Kelly, 2020)”. This emotional relation to Donald Trump further strengthens partisan attachment along with the fervent opposition of the government under dictator Fidel Castro (Kelly, 2020).
Under Castro’s dictatorship, he disassembled all democratic means of governance and demanded absolute allegiance. Cubans who migrated to America joined the Republican Party as they deemed it more capable of protecting them from Castro and his communist rule. Today’s Cuban Americans see Trump as representing self-made success without having to sacrifice for others, making him symbolic of their aspirations and appealing to their emotions (Kelly, 2020). With this as evidence of their admiration of Republican leaders, their dismay of Democratic leaders can partly be explained by the Bay of Pigs operation failure. When Democratic President John F. Kennedy canceled the air strikes that could have led to the overthrowing of Castro, Cubans felt betrayed by Kennedy, causing extreme distrust in America’s democratic leaders that lingers in today’s population (Klein, 2019).
Minority Influence on Partisan Identification
The reason that the large concentration of Cubans in America’s Republican Party is an interesting example of partisan attachment is because the overall population of non-Cuban Hispanic Americans is predominantly democratic or democratic-leaning (Krogstad, 2020). Hajnal and Rivera share how partisan identification was largely impacted by the growth of the latino population in America, the largest minority population in the United States. White Americans were repelled from the Democratic Party in response to the growing support of minorities by the Democratic Party in the 1960s civil rights movement. This shows how racial attitudes have traditionally pushed white Americans towards the Republican Party and minorities towards the Democratic Party (Hajnal & Rivera, 2014). In addition, Hochschild illustrates how the growth of minority populations and their rights has been perceived among radical right, white Americans as a status threat. Status threat occurs when the majority (white Americans) fear that the growth and support of minority populations in the country will eventually enable minorities to gain equal status as them, eventually turning the majority into the minority. As a result of the status threat, white conservatives have increased their support of policies that enforce hierarchical social and political arrangements in order to regain a sense of dominance by limiting minority success (Hochschild, 2016).
Dangers to Democracy
Presented with this information one may wonder, why would hispanics identify with a political party that seems to go against their own self-interest? Well, looking at Cubans as a sub-group, we can see that the strong emotional attachments they hold towards the Republican Party and its leaders along with the resentment they carry towards the Democratic Party and its leaders overpower confounding factors. Kelly adds to this by sharing how Cubans are not even pushed away by the Trump administration’s decision which prevents Cubans from sending money to those who remain on the island (Kelly, 2020). The Republican Party has become a part of Cuban identity, which Hajnal and Rivera refer to as a “psychological attachment that is stable and generally impervious to change (Hajnal & Rivera, 2014)”. Partisan attachment can contribute to democratic erosion when those attached allow a populist leader to come into office. An example of this would be in the 2020 election where many Cubans ceased to vote for Joe Biden over Donald Trump merely because they do not trust democratic leaders due to past treachery. Events such as these allow populist leaders into power through emotional appeals. These populists will use their status gain to put like-minded politicians into positions of power and disassemble democracy altogether. In addition, partisan antipathy among members of opposing parties produces polarization by propelling citizens towards opposite political extremes. Polarization leads to lack of reasonable debate and compromise, creating a government environment that does not accurately represent the population as a democracy should.
Hajnal, Z., & Rivera, M. (2014, October). Immigration, Latinos, and White Partisan Politics: The New Democratic Defection. American Journal of Political Science, 58(4), 773-789. : https://www.jstor.org/stable/24363525
Hochschild, A., & ProQuest. (2016). Strangers in their own land : Anger and mourning on the American right.
Kelly, W. (2020, November 6). The Cuban revolution explains why younger Cuban Americans supported Trump. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/11/06/cuban-revolution-explains-why-younger-cuban-americans-supported-trump/
Klein, C. (2019, May 6). All the Ways the Bay of Pigs Invasion Failed. History. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.history.com/news/bay-of-pigs-mistakes-cuba-jfk-castro
Krogstad, J. M. (2020, October 2). Most Cuban American voters identify as Republican in 2020. Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/02/most-cuban-american-voters-identify-as-republican-in-2020/
Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2019). Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism. Cambridge University Press.