SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Political pundits say this year's election is too close to call, according to the polls. And they point out that the polls have often been wrong anyway. So instead of a pundit, let's talk to a certified genius - at least, a MacArthur Fellows genius.
Junot Diaz, who's a professor of writing at MIT but is best known for books like "The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao," which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and "This Is How You Lose Her" - Mr. Diaz joins us from MIT. Thanks so much for being with us.
JUNOT DIAZ: Oh, thank you so much for having me.
SIMON: There are a lot of themes in this election year which have appeared in your books - race, immigration. What do you notice about this campaign?
DIAZ: Well, it's one of the strange things about being a literary artist - is that we're often called upon in our work to bear witness to the times that we're writing about. And, certainly, that sharpens one's lens.
And this election cycle certainly has brought out or made more explicit a lot of the - kind of the undercurrents of craziness in the American national character. We have a candidate on the Republican side that's more or less running on a nakedly nativistic and xenophobic and, you know, from my point of view, racist platform and has received a remarkable amount of support.
And then, you know, we have a candidate like Hillary Clinton, who, to put it charitably, does not excite a lot of the young people out there who brought all of that idealism into getting Obama elected.
SIMON: When politicians talk about issues that are of interest to Hispanic voters, it's often about immigration. Are they missing some other issues that are of interest to people who are in Hispanic neighborhoods and Hispanic families?
DIAZ: Well, you know, I mean, you couldn't think of a more diverse set of communities than the Latino community. I mean, we're from every region, every class, every race.
One of the things that's happened during this election is that the kind of drumbeat of demonization - the sort of conceptualizing or framing Latinos as explicitly immigrants and immigrants as an invasion threat - has sort of pushed to the margins all of the rich complexity and the interests of the Latino community. I think people feel a profound, existential threat.
People feel very, very targeted by the Trump campaign. And so I think, even in our own communities, folks who normally would never have sat at the same table, folks who normally wouldn't be in conversation with each other - or being, actually, drawn together by this impulse to fight back.
SIMON: At the same time, you've also been critical of President Obama's immigration policies, haven't you?
DIAZ: Well, I mean, my God, it's - if his administration deported any more folks, it'd be hard to imagine. You know, it's - we're a country that wants it both ways. We're a country whose livelihoods, whose economic robustness is predicated on the underpaid and exploited labor of our immigrants, whether they're documented or not.
We're a country that's addicted to immigrant labor. If we withdrew immigrant labor from the economic and political system of this country, it would more or less collapse. But we have a kind of set of politics that are very, very hostile to immigrants that, at best, erase immigrants and, at worst, targets them as some sort of hostile and terrible group of people.
SIMON: You came to the United States from the Dominican Republic. And you've also been outspoken about being disappointed in the Dominican Republic's reaction to immigrants - Haitian immigrants we're talking about.
DIAZ: Yeah. Well, I mean, listen, attacking immigrants and demonizing immigrants is an ongoing global practice. What's going on, let's say, in the United States or the Dominican Republic - the top problems are not immigrants. For elites, immigrants are an exceptional tool of distraction. And in the Dominican Republic, it's no different.
SIMON: Mr. Diaz, a personal question - you going to vote?
DIAZ: Yeah, I vote all the time. I'm one of those people. I mean, you know, what really matters in our country is never up for election. It's never up for a vote, you know? But I always discharge my civic duty. It's something that's been a part of my life for as long as I can vote, I guess.
SIMON: (Laughter) I don't have to do a psychological profile of you to judge that you don't sound very excited about it, though.
DIAZ: Well, because, I mean, firsthand, do we ever kind of get to vote on some of the aspects of our society that we really should be able to vote upon? You know, I would love a thumbs-up and thumbs-down about whether corporations should be given more protection and power than regular old human beings.
I would love a vote up and down - whether a regular Jane around the corner or Francisco should pay more taxes than a transnational corporation. And then, of course, you know, the candidates that we're voting for - I would not say that I feel an enormous sense of hope and possibility - just feels more like triage for me.
SIMON: Junot Diaz, the writer and professor, thanks so much for being with us.
DIAZ: Thank you so much for having me.
SIMON: And NPR is following the vice-presidential candidates as they prepare for their debate on Tuesday. You can hear live coverage on many NPR stations, along with live fact-checking at npr.org.
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