The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump and Mexico

I think concerns expressed that Trump treat Mexico and President Peña Nieto with dignity and respect are well-taken and wise.

But part of the problem inherent in Trump’s pushback is that the present relationship has become asymmetrical for so long that merely returning to a normal 50/50 give and take will inevitably cause hysteria. Given political realities in Mexico, Peña Nieto must push back, but such natural patriotism should not disguise the fact that Mexico depends on the U.S. far more than the U.S. on Mexico — a fact privately conceded by all leaders on both sides of the border.

For decades Mexico, a country richly endowed with natural resources, climate, weather, and geography, has failed to make necessary reforms that might have offered its own citizens the security and prosperity that would have made their emigration unnecessary. This lapse most recently was largely because a ruling aristocracy saw advantage in seeing mostly impoverished and indigenous citizens from Oaxaca and southern Mexico, at great risks to their persons, leave their country.

In the eyes of many in the Mexican government mass flight is a safety valve that has alleviated pressures on social services and demands for parity. Illegal immigration into the U.S. has ensured a powerful expatriate community that oddly appreciates Mexico the longer and further it is absent from it. It helps to drive electoral change in the U.S. in ways that Mexico approves. And, most importantly, illegal immigration results in about $25 billion per annum sent to Mexico in remittances (larger than foreign-exchange earnings from its oil revenues) — in many cases from the impoverished whose dependence on U.S. social services subsidizes such cash to be sent home.

And while Peña Nieto, as a proud leader of a proud people, cannot be expected to kowtow to U.S. demands (especially given our rocky relationship over two centuries), we should remember that Mexico has interfered in our political processes and gone to great lengths to ensure the present advantageous though callous export of people — to such an extent that it once printed comic-book-style instruction manuals to its citizens about how to cross the border illegally (cynically assuming that its citizens considering leaving were both not able to read and should not worry about obeying the laws of the country which they sought to enter.)

I once debated a Mexican government consul and realized — after receiving sanctimonious lectures from him on how the U.S. government must treat his own citizens who had entered our country illegally — that he assumed our surreal relationship was the new normal. He seemed oblivious to the Mexican Constitution’s infamous clause (racist in nature and always promised to be repealed) about the ethnicity of new immigrants into Mexico (e.g., adhering to “the equilibrium of the national demographics”), its Draconian policies of deportation and incarceration of illegal immigrants (guilty of a felony), and its short patience with its own southern neighbors. I came away with the realization that the Mexican government seems to care far more about its poorest citizens after they cross into the U.S. than when they are residing in Mexico.

The U.S. bears some culpability for open borders.

Corporate employers enjoyed cheap labor, predicated on the state’s subsidization of immigrants’ health, legal, and educational needs.

The Democratic party believed it could eventually turn the American Southwest blue through illegal immigration and subsequent demographic change.

La Raza activists saw advantages in a revolving but permanent numerical pool of disadvantaged Mexican nationals who arrived without legality, English facility, and often a high-school diploma — and thus were in need of collective representation by often self-appointed ethnic leaders.

And the American upper-middle classes soon assumed that they, in the previous manner of the aristocracy, could afford “help” and have industrious but otherwise inexpensive laborers tend to their lawns, clean their house, and watch their kids.

How we readjust our relationship to resemble something to akin to the northern border where parity between the two countries makes border crossing a mute issue won’t be easy.

We think that Trump’s bluster is “art of the deal” bargaining, but, in fact, the Mexican government is the shrewd dealer. Its perennial outrage, in wounded-fawn fashion, has proven an astute strategy for maintaining what in a normal world would long ago have been seen as provocative aggression.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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