As I write this, Republican presidential nominee Donald
Trump is returning from Mexico City where he met, on
unprecedented short notice, with Mexican President
Enrique Pena Nieto.
The meeting was cordial and introductory. Apparently a
number of topics were discussed, including the construction
of a wall along the U.S- Mexican border. Mr. Trump, however,
has already indicated that the discussions were preliminary,
including no discussion of how the proposed wall would be
The invitation by President Pena Nieto had been a surprise
(he also extended it to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton,
but she declined to visit Mexico at this time). Mr. Trump’s
acceptance of the invitation was an even bigger surprise. Mr.
Trump’s popularity in Mexico is extraordinarily low (in the
single digits). But President Pena Nieto’s popularity in his own
country is also quite low (below 30%). A Mexican president
serves only one 6-year term, and a new president will be
elected in 2018.
Mexico is one of two major nations which physically border
the United States. Although their populations are much smaller
than those in the U.S., each has major world economic impact.
As someone who has lived in Mexico, speaks Spanish fluently,
and is an admirer of Mexican art, literature, music, folklore and
cuisine, and a student of Mexican history and culture, I have
little time for many U.S.-held stereotypes of our neighbors to
the south. On the other hand, since declaring its independence
from Spain in the early 19th century, Mexico has struggled to
overcome the drawbacks of its legacy from the violent and
claustrophobic Spanish colonial heritage, a struggle, I might
add, which has faced virtually all of the former Spanish colonies
of Central and South America. (For those who want to understand
this Mexican condition, I recommend The Labyrinth of Solitude,
the great sociological book by the Mexican author Octavio Paz.)
Unlike our long-term relationship with our other continental
neighbor, Canada, to the north, our relationship with Mexico has
been troubled. Past U.S. governments have interfered in Mexican
affairs, and Mexico holds some long-standing claims to parts of
the southwestern U.S. which, before becoming U.S. territory and
achieving statehood were Spanish and later Mexican territories.
The current controversy over illegal Mexican immigration to the
U.S. is only the latest of many disputes between the two nations
during the past 200 years.
Mr. Trump, at the outset of his presidential campaign, made some
inflammatory remarks about Mexico, its emigrants to the U.S. and
our trade relationship with that nation. His last-minute decision
to suddenly accept the Mexican president’s invitation represents
a desire to modify the impression he made then, but without
fundamentally changing his basic views about the relationship.
Mr. Trump declared five serious areas of reform while in Mexico
City. I will leave it to each of my readers to judge whether his short
visit accomplished that or not, but there can be little doubt now
that a President Trump represents likely major change in the
foreign policies of President Barack Obama (and presumably of
Mrs. Clinton as well, should she win the election).
As a journalist, I might be expected to complain about the fact that
Mr. Trump left his campaign media entourage behind while he
visited Mexico City for a few hours, but I will not do so --- nor
should the U.S. media establishment which has ignored the plain
fact that Hillary Clinton has not held a press conference for almost
the entire presidential campaign so far.
I continue to be critical of both major party presidential candidates,
and I continue not to endorse either of them, but I would be less
than candid if I did not acknowledge that Mr. Trump has emerged
as a master of media drama and focus as few other political figures
have ever done before him.
Just as our U.S. relationship with Mexico is far more complicated
than meets the eye, this presidential campaign is revealing itself to
be far more complicated than I think anyone has anticipated.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.