“Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States,” Mexican president Porfirio Díaz once said around the turn of the 20th century.
Today, a Mexican president who is disliked by Mexicans — as is his Institutional Revolutionary Party — is playing “David” to U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s “Goliath.”
This month, termed-out President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a planned meeting in the White House with President Trump. He apparently did not want to be “bullied” by a much taller, more shoot-from-the-lip Trump.
Not only did President Trump express contempt for Mexicans in a tweet but in a personal phone call a day later with President Peña Nieto. Trump reportedly threw one of his patented temper tantrums because the Mexican leader essentially told Trump — for the third time — that he would not offer any Mexican support for Trump’s “beautiful wall” on the Mexico-U.S. border.
According to a Reuters news service report on Saturday:
“The Washington Post, which first reported the delay earlier on Saturday, said the two leaders spoke for about 50 minutes on Tuesday (February 20). But the discussion led to an impasse when Trump would not agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of the wall.
“A Mexican official said Trump lost his temper during the conversation, the newspaper reported. But it said U.S. officials described Trump as frustrated and exasperated, because he believed it was unreasonable for Peña Nieto to want him to back off his campaign promise of forcing Mexico to pay for the wall.”
This episode reflects failed policies towards Mexico that previously peaked in the administration of President Woodrow Wilson, in 1914 and 1916. Wilson was America’s premier racist president who invaded Mexico twice in two years in failed attempts to influence the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. Apparently, Trump has crafted his policy towards Mexico using Wilson’s playbook. Bullets, not balance.
Candidate Trump declared what we can consider to be a Mexico policy in his announcement speech in June 2015. “Criminals” and “rapists” seemed to be flooding the United States from Mexico, he said at the time, and his proposed “wall” would end that.
A few weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Trump surprised everyone by flying to Mexico to meet with President Peña Nieto. Though Trump never admitted that the Mexican president symbolically slapped Trump around, the Mexican leader announced publicly that he told Trump to his face that Mexico would not pay for “the wall.”
Trump, of course, told a different story, insisting the subject didn’t come up.
The wall continued to be an issue after Trump’s inauguration, with the famous January 2017 phone call between the two presidents. Trump tried to bully the Mexican, who reportedly stuck it to the new American president.
It appears that President Trump has not learned any lessons from his disastrous trip to Mexico in 2016, or his first phone call after his inauguration in 2017, or from the current phone kerfuffle. Either he is a slow learner, or his “world-class” memory has shrunk with age.
He appears to be totally unschooled on what a policy should be towards Mexico; apparently he has no idea of the history between the United States and Mexico. Moreover, whoever is whispering in his ear about how to deal with Mexico has no clue either about how to deal with it. Neither is aware of the centuries of interaction between the U.S. and Mexico.
He’s not alone, of course. Much ignorance of Mexico permeates the media, the general populace and, of course, the rest of the U.S. government.
Mexico and Canada are our best customers and our best friends, considering that between them there are more than 6,000 miles of common border with us. Trump threatens tariffs against Mexico and an end to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with both countries only because he misunderstands that trade and our “balance of payments” falls far short of neighborliness.
The United States does a trillion dollars in NAFTA trade annually with Mexico and Canada. President Trump needs to make nice with our best mutual trading partners — that’s what he should be doing, not picking fights. Instead, he’s nicer to Russia than to Mexico.
No wonder he only received a tiny percentage of the Hispanic vote in 2016. In Colorado, for example, studies show Trump received perhaps only 14@ of the Hispanic vote. And in Los Angeles county, a heavily Hispanic county, Trump lost by 48 percentage points.
Good luck in the next election, Mr. President.
Raoul Lowery-Contreras is the author of The Armenian Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy (Berkeley Press) and The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade (Floricanto Press). He formerly wrote for the New American News Service of the New York Times.