With her latest song, Mexican-American singer Lila Downs added a few more names to this list: white devil, bully, monster, quack, circus act, and the song’s title, “Demagogue.”
“Do not be fooled by this man’s foolish talk,” she sings. “He’s the symbol of the monster we no longer want to be.”
Downs, a Grammy-winning artist with a huge international following, has sung for many years about politics and social unrest in Mexico, even facing threats and censorship for writing about state-sponsored massacres and lying politicians. But “The Demagogue,” a song that compares Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Augusto Pinochet, is her first public stand on American politics. Though born a dual citizen, she also voted in a U.S. election for the first time in her life this year, mailing in her ballot from her other home in Oaxaca, Mexico.
“It’s extremely important to vote,” she told ThinkProgress over Skype. “I need to set an example if I’m going to tell people to accompany me.”
Over the past few months, Downs has been doing more than singing warnings about Trump and urging people to “accompany” her to the ballot box. Partnering with the group Voto Latino, she has helped register hundreds of people to vote at her concerts in Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, and California.
Down’s new track “The Demagogue” is part of 30 Days, 30 Songs — a coalition of musicians including Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M., Moby, Franz Ferdinand, and others releasing songs protesting Donald Trump.
“Did I know he was racist? Yes,” she said. “He’s promoting this notion that the ‘others’ are coming to take away the spot of those in power. The problem is that these are hard-working human beings that deserve respect and dignity.”
“Did I know he was racist? Yes.”
Trump’s promise to build a massive border wall especially struck a nerve with Downs, who said she considers herself a “border person” — blending the cultures and musical traditions of both her mother and her father’s countries. The new song includes back-up singers chanting “no to that wall,” and the cover image released with the song depicts a graffiti portrait of Downs spray-painted onto the wall that already stretches over hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I think that the wall is a metaphor for blocking relationships between societies and between cultures,” she told ThinkProgress. She says the desire for such a wall is rooted in Trump supporters’ fear.
“They are afraid of Latinos,” she said. “They turn and they see Latinos all over the place, getting good jobs, getting educated, working in Hollywood, working in politics. We have been progressing in U.S. society for many, many years. But they lump us together with recent immigrants and assume we’re all the same. It’s so closed-minded. There is a lot of garbage going around that is just emptiness and backwards notions.”
As Trump began pushing the narrative that the election is rigged against him by a cabal of Democrats, Republicans, undocumented immigrants, and the media, Downs said she became afraid that the U.S. would become more like Mexico — where fewer than half of eligible voters participate, even though voting is mandatory.
“In Mexico, people are so apathetic, since the system really does not work a lot of the time,” she said. “People say, ‘Who should I vote for? It really doesn’t matter.’ Which is very depressing. And now there’s a large part of the population in the U.S. that think along the same lines.”
Latino voter turnout rates have been dismal for decades, but this year, inspired in part by the threat of a Trump administration, Latino immigrants have naturalized and registered to vote in record numbers. If they turn out on or before Election Day, they could decide the fate of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida, among other key swing states. A new poll finds that Latinos prefer Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump by a staggering 59 polling points.
Still, Downs told ThinkProgress, she isn’t celebrating yet, and will continue to speak out against Trump and urge Latinos to go to the polls. “Sometimes I think very optimistically that we’re going to beat his ass, but sometimes I get depressed.”