Journalist Russell Contreras broke down the presidential election and called for national unity in the last 90 Minutes Series of the semester on Wednesday.
Contreras, an immigration and minority affairs reporter for the Associated Press, said this election was divisive and that the country’s toxic political climate has reached its zenith.
“We have been moving to a point politically where politics is based on dominating the other,” Contreras said. “You are there not to negotiate and to come up with solutions and to govern but to dominate your opponent, to overwhelm him or her. This sets problems for democracy because our whole Constitution is based on bringing people to the table and coming to solutions.”
He called attention to Trump’s inaccurate remarks and Clinton’s email scandals but said people did not care about the facts because they had already made their decision. This led to dangerous situations at rallies, where polarized groups clashed in the streets, he said.
“We have one candidate that openly called for putting the other candidate in jail,” Contreras said. “We have another candidate openly saying the other was unfit for office, was a bigot, was xenophobic and was a danger to our nation. Two opposite sides presenting two visions of America and two sides cheering them on regardless of the facts.”
Contreras said despite articles written about both candidates, facts were largely ignored during the election cycle. He has been criticized for covering immigration. People assume he is biased because of his Hispanic and Native American background.
“When I go to a scene it’s very obvious what I am,” Contreras said. “I can’t wipe the brown off … sometimes my very existence is a political statement, but I’m very careful. I have one mission and that is the truth and to tell good stories.”
Contreras said even though his grandfather and several other relatives have served in war for the U.S., people make assumptions about Hispanics he cannot control. But he questions what more the nation needs as proof that he is just as American as everyone else.
“We have a stake to claim in the United States that transcends what a lot of folks believe of us,” Contreras said. “Largely because we in media have positioned Latinos to be foreign, that we are still foreign bodies, not fully American.”
New Mexico, where Contreras is based, voted for Hillary Clinton in the election largely because of fear for the alternative, Contreras said. The state is the second-poorest in the nation and, despite its large Hispanic population, is not a popular state for immigrants because of the poor economic conditions.
“New Mexico is interesting because it is the most Hispanic state in the nation,” Contreras said. “Roughly 43 percent of residents are Hispanic and that’s by far the highest percentage in the country. But it’s a very old population, where we have 12th generation Hispanics there … from even before (the U.S.) was colonized. We have a number of Native American reservations and so forth.”
Ultimately, Contreras said, a key element to promoting unity in the future is proper diversity in media, getting an “accurate picture of America.”
“Despite the demographic changes in this country, we face resistance to demanding that newsrooms are reflective of the community they serve,” Contreras said. “And when I say diversity, I’m not just talking about people of color, I’m talking about gay and lesbian, I’m talking about rural journalists, I’m even talking about conservatives in the newsroom that could really affect and change the narrative of America.”