By Felipe Lopez Veneroni
Canal Once Television
The immediate aftermath of the US presidential election was met in Mexico with a sense of apprehension and anxiety. Never had an American presidential candidate been so outspoken against Mexico and Mexicans. Though it is common knowledge that many Americans do not look kindly upon their Southern neighbours, it was a view usually kept under wraps, especially by US mainstream politicians (out of what many call political or, in this case, diplomatic correctness). Trump changed all that. From the onset of his campaign he referred to Mexico and Mexicans in very hostile terms, and threatened to expel at least 6 million illegal immigrants residing in the US and to build a wall along the border which Mexico would have to pay for.
Mexican media, normally very respectful of US politics, became the outlet not so much of banal nationalism (which at this point was pointless), but of a series of critical perspectives expounded on by academics, politicians, historians and writers. These analysts put forward diverse strategies as to how to deal with Trump ranging from outright confrontation to peaceful negotiation. More than fear it was incredulity, surprise and disbelief at what some dubbed Trump’s ludicrous political discourse. Others did not hesitate to compare Trump with Hitler, and referred to his political views and programme as fascist.
In August, 2016, Peña’s government invited candidate Trump to visit Mexico in order to hold a private meeting. The initiative was widely criticised in Mexican media (though, in all fairness, the government had also invited Hillary Clinton, but she did not accept). The Mexican government’s stand was read as a sign of weakness, especially because the purpose of the invitation was not defined. The joint statement after the meeting did not help to clear things up. It was said that they had only exchanged general views regarding U.S.-Mexico relations. In an interview later that day Peña Nieto assured that the border wall issue was never brought up in the meeting. However, in the evening, Trump contradicted this view in his Twitter account. According to Trump the wall issue was discussed and he had made it clear that Mexico would have to pay for it.
To make things worse, the night before Trump’s inauguration, Mexican authorities extradited Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzmán, a notorious drug lord long sought by the US, in a move that many considered as an act of submission by the Federal government in order to appease Trump. Peña’s approval rates hit an all-time low for any Mexican president in the past four decades.
Trump’s views on immigration, the North American and the Pacific Free Trade Agreements, his threats to ban Muslims from visiting the U.S. and of keeping a close eye on those already living there, plus his views on women or his shady dealings with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, were all covered by and commented on Mexican media. Debates on radio and television shows, and articles and stories in the printed press, literally swamped our information channels (not to mention social media). – All of this in the midst of internal turmoil due to the increase in gas prices, electricity bills and the devaluation of the Mexican peso.
However, two weeks into Trump’s administration, public and media perception in Mexico began to shift. The fact that many Americans, in particular women (both in the U.S. and around the world), had staged massive protests against Trump, was were viewed as a positive sign. Mexicans were not alone in dealing with a person that acted more like a bully than as a U.S. president. Moreover, Trump’s immediate blunder with the Australian Prime Minister, Trudeau’s speech in the UN General Assembly, and the way François Hollande and Angela Merkel distanced themselves from Trump’s views, further reinforced the notion that the threat to Mexico was shared by other countries.
In a particularly uplifting gesture, Berlin’s governing mayor, Michael Müller, made a public statement advising Trump to take heed from his city’s history and avoid building a wall, followed by the raising of the Mexican flag in Berlin’s main square. But perhaps the most important shift in Mexican media’s perception was due to the way American citizens and U.S. media reacted to Trump’s policies.
The decisions of the judiciary in response to Trump’s executive order on immigration, the reaction of some employees at the State Department, and a number of States as well of local authorities who declared “sanctuary cities” and were unwilling to put into effect Trump’s plans to deport illegal immigrants, were greeted with enthusiasm by Mexicans. All of a sudden it seemed that the first real wall Trump would have to face was already built by American political institutions, as well as by U.S. media.
Saturday Night Live’s sketches, depicting Trump and his aides as being out of touch with reality, became immensely popular in Mexico. Editorials and articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major U.S. newspapers were also commented and reproduced by Mexican media. Even though it is clear that Trump’s policies have widespread support from many Americans, those U.S. citizens that oppose his draconian style of government seem to be the majority. (Something that clearly reflected in the popular vote, which Trump actually lost by a 2 million plus difference).
So far one of the most significant signs that things are not as bad for Mexico as originally perceived is that the Mexican peso has regained its pre-election value against the U.S. dollar. Even as raids against immigrants by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency have escalated, the truth is that for at least a decade the number of migrants voluntarily returning to Mexico is greater than those going into the US.
Things in Mexico are not easy, but there is a growing feeling that we will be able to cope with Trump’s policies and to adjust our economy and lifestyle to a new reality. Just yesterday (Sunday, February 12) two different Non-Governmental Organisations called for a massive demonstration in the Federal District and other major cities to protest against Trump as a means to express our unity as a nation and our support for the millions of Mexicans living and working in the U.S. Alas, internal social and political divisions between Mexicans thwarted the demonstration’s original purpose.
While some wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to express their rejection of both U.S. and Mexican presidents, others wanted to march in favour of president Peña in order to reinforce his stand in future negotiations with the American government. For the former, the latter were being politically manipulated. In the end the demonstration was not that massive and it didn’t show much unity. But at the very least, there seems to be a new consciousness that things have changed, but not for the worse, and that if we are able to stick together in spite of our logical differences, we will be able to pull through what many believe to be dark times.
F.N. López Veneroni is a professor at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Ombudsman at Canal Once Televisión.