Mexican-Born Artist Pablo Helguera Sounds Off on Donald Trump Ahead of Republican Debate

It's precisely the clowns that we need to take seriously, he says.

Pablo Helguera.
Photo courtesy the artist.

“When Mexico sends its people,” Donald Trump said during his July announcement of his presidential campaign, “they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

The New York real estate developer has proposed mass deportations and the erection of a wall between Mexico and the U.S., as well as revisions to the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants “birthright citizenship” to those born in the US. He claims that undocumented immigrants are using their “anchor babies” to ensure they won’t be sent back to Mexico.

In advance of the next Republican debate, to be aired on CNN (and streamed for free online) on Wednesday, September 16, artnet News invited Mexico City-born artist Pablo Helguera to offer his thoughts on The Donald.

I first decided that, like many clowns out there who take over the media spreading hatred and nonsense, I could not take Trump seriously. But then also realized that it is precisely the clowns that we need to take seriously, because they feed from real anxieties, fears, and resentment in society.

First, it is important to see Trump for what he represents. There is a character that I love from the movie Big Night, named Pascal—a scheming restaurateur who says: “I am a businessman. I am anything I need to be at any time.” Trump is a businessman who knows how to be whatever he needs to be to make a deal. The protests by the Republican elite that he is not a true Republican or a true conservative are completely correct, but they are falling flat because voters are seduced by Trump’s charisma and because the other candidates are being too cautious.

The danger that Trump poses is that by virtue of being blunt and setting political correctness and “tone” aside, he has created a climate where it is okay to spurt racism and sexism if this is done under the supposed goal to “make America great again.” He is benefitting from the fact that the Latino voters are still a disorganized constituency. But like writer Ernesto Londoño said in a recent essay in the New York Times, Trump could “unlock the potential of the Latino electorate.” He is activating Latinos like no other politician has ever done before, and this could only have a positive effect.

I came to the US 25 years ago, a time when there was little recognition of the Latinization of America. Currently Latinos constitute 17% of the entire population, and according to the US Census this number will grow to almost 30% by 2060. This is a dramatic transformation of the American electorate that we will see unfold in the coming decades.

So whenever I see racism applied to Latinos, I see the reactive conservative forces in action that try to retain control of a political process and a government that no longer represents the demographic reality of this nation. I believe the Republican establishment is very well aware of this reality and thus they see it as crucial for their survival to establish a relationship with the Latino electorate that will make them a viable party for the future.

I don’t think all is lost for the Republicans (unfortunately), as there are for example many religious Latinos that would support a conservative agenda. But this, of course, would not be sustainable with a candidate like Trump. Ultimately I highly doubt that Trump will get all the way to the nomination, as the Republican elite will fight him to the bitter end and will probably push to nominate an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush.

But in the meantime, it is important to denounce Trump for the racist brute he is. I for one have already ordered my Trump piñata, and can’t wait to organize a party to tear it apart.

Pablo Helguera lives in New York, where he exhibits his work at Kent Fine Art. A 2013 show there consisted of a functioning Spanish-language used bookstore, inspired by the fact that no such store exists in New York City. He has performed and shown at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Museo de Arte Renia Sofia (Madrid), the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, among other venues.

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