Several weeks ago, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Prize for Literature 2010) published an opinion in Spain´s daily El País in which he characterized Donald Trump as a “racist imbecile.” In his piece Vargas Llosa goes to great lengths to reassure his Spanish-speaking readers that Trump is not a representative figure of the United States, or a characteristic product of American capitalism, and that Trump’s garish brand of Ugly Americanism is not a stench upon the integrity and ideals of the country. This last, legitimate figure of the Latin American literature “Boom” of the 20th century (La ciudad y los perros, La guerra del fin del mundo, La fiesta del chivo), is almost convincing.
Vargas Llosa understands that Latin Americans and Spanish Americans give no credence to the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” immigrants that U.S. opponents of immigration are so fond of making:
[Trump] amuses himself these days as an aspiring Republican candidate insulting the Hispanic community of the United States—over 50 million people—who, according to him, are an infected rabble of thieves and rapists.
Trump referred to Mexican “illegals” coming through the southern border, but we know, and more importantly, his audience knows, that he is talking about all of us: Mexicans, Central Americans, Cubans who gain legal status the second they land on American soil, Puerto Ricans who have been native born US citizens since 1910—all of us, “legal” or not, who will be corralled in cattle cars and sent back to where we came from (even if we came from here).
Case in point in Arizona: even when the children of “illegal” immigrants were declared “legal” by presidential executive order, Governor Jan Brewer signed a law to prevent them from acquiring driving licenses. We know that Trump voices the opposition of his audiences and his vile rhetoric against all of us. One Trump supporter recently told Jorge Ramos, the respected journalist from Univision: “It’s not about you.” And then added, somewhat contradictorily: “Get out of my country.”
When Ramos clarified that he was a U.S. citizen, the Trump fan declared: “Well, whatever!”
“The problem,” Vargas Llosa continues, “is that racism is never rational…. That is why it is so difficult to resist with ideas, or with appeals to good sense.” Vargas Llosa submits Trump’s “horrible and ostentatious sky-scrapers” as proof of his “lack of culture” (incultura), although he acknowledges the possibility that Trump’s insults may be simply “frivolous and irresponsible.”
It would be “unfair to conclude [here begins Vargas Llosa’s defense of the US] that racism and other sectarian prejudices are the essence of capitalism, its most refined and inevitable product.” His final statement:
The United States is the leading society of our time, the example that sooner or later must be followed—opening frontiers to all—by countries who want to be (or want to continue to be) modern, in a world marked by globalization.
The great Latin American novelists of the “Boom” have been, and continue to be, great mentors and teachers for my generation of Spanish American intellectuals. But in this case, as we see the Trump phenomenon grow and make a mockery of American democracy, like Montresor in Poe’s Amontillado story, “I have my doubts.”
After all, one remembers the voice in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, which warned us from the experience of the Holocaust (what follows is a paraphrase): “First they said ‘You cannot live among us as Jews.’ Then they said ‘You cannot live among us.’ Finally they said ‘You cannot live.’”
I have my doubts that this cask of fine wine is truly Amontillado.