By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity
.. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
.. The episode seemed a return to the fraught days of the 1920s, when Calvin Coolidge’s administration derided “Soviet Mexico” and Hearst newspapers ginned up pretexts for a U.S. invasion.
.. Anti-Americanism, once a staple of Mexican politics, has largely faded.
.. What Mexican analysts have called the “China card”—a threat to align with America’s greatest competitor—is an extreme retaliatory option.
.. The painful early days of the Trump administration have reminded Mexico of a core economic weakness: The country depends far too heavily on the American market.
.. It rightly considered China its primary competition for American consumers. Immediately after nafta went into effect in 1994, the Mexican economy enjoyed a boom in trade and investment
.. Then, in 2001, the World Trade Organization admitted China, propelling the country further into the global economy. Many Mexican factories could no longer compete; jobs disappeared practically overnight.
.. Barack Obama’s administration urged his country to steer clear of Chinese investment in energy and infrastructure projects. These conversations were a prologue to the government’s decision to scuttle a $3.7 billion contract with a Chinese-led consortium to build a bullet train linking Mexico City with Querétaro
.. The average hourly wage in Chinese manufacturing is now $3.60. Over that same period of time, hourly manufacturing wages in Mexico have fallen to $2.10.
.. Mexico increasingly looks like a sensible place for Chinese firms to set up shop, particularly given its proximity to China’s biggest export market.
.. Mexico sold a Chinese oil company access to two massive patches of deepwater oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. And in February, the billionaire Carlos Slim, a near-perfect barometer of the Mexican business elite’s mood, partnered with Anhui Jianghuai Automobile to produce SUVs in Hidalgo
.. Let’s pause to consider the illogic. Trump says that China is a grave threat, both militarily and economically.
.. Barack Obama’s vaunted “pivot” to Asia tried to keep China’s neighbors from succumbing to its gravitational pull. Thanks to Donald Trump, China is now better positioned to execute the most difficult maneuver in its own, North American pivot—pushing the U.S. and Mexico further apart.
.. One common complaint of populists, no matter their country, is that their nation has ceded sovereignty. This, in fact, has happened in Mexico’s case.
.. the Mexican government has been integrated into U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
.. The passenger list of every international flight that arrives in Mexico is run through American databases, and the results are passed along to American officers, some of whom are posted in Mexico City’s Benito Juárez airport.
.. Cargo bound for the United States is inspected before it leaves Tijuana.
.. it is the most frequently crossed border in the world
.. Mexico could assert its importance by dialing back these efforts.
.. America’s everyday relationship with Mexico is like The New York Times’ presence at White House press briefings or a president’s avoidance of conflicts of interest: It’s a modern norm that seems a fixture of governance, until it erodes and perhaps irreversibly disappears...So much of Donald Trump’s rise was predicated on a nonexistent fear: that Mexicans are pouring over the border. In fact, more Mexicans now leave the United States each year than arrive. But Trump could inadvertently trigger the waves of newcomers that he rails against...For the past few years, the border has been periodically flooded with Central Americans fleeing gang violence. Those surges could have been far larger had Mexico not stepped up enforcement of its southern border with Guatemala in 2014, largely stanching the flow of migrants. From 2014 through July 2016, with American prodding, the Mexicans detained approximately 425,000 migrants who were attempting to make their way to the United States...Remittances are extensively studied by economists. Ample evidence suggests that they are as effective an antipoverty program as anything devised by governments or NGOs: Families that receive remittances are more likely to invest in their own health care and education... Next year, the country will pick a new president... the likely winner is a familiar loser: the left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador.. there’s a good chance that, in a year’s time, the populist Trump will be staring across the border at another populist... Amlo’s political party is called the National Regeneration Movement (morena)—he wants to make Mexico great again. Like Trump, Amlo professes an almost mystical connection with the people. He alone can channel their will... He despises collaboration with the DEA and relishes the idea of renegotiating nafta on terms more favorable to Mexico. “Everything depends on strengthening Mexico,” he has said, “so we can confront aggression from abroad with strength.”If Amlo becomes president, all of the worst-case scenarios, all of the proposals for petulant retaliation, would become instantly plausible.
.. Unwinding this relationship would be ugly and painful, a strategic blunder of the highest order, a gift to America’s enemies, a gaping vulnerability for the homeland that Donald Trump professes to protect, a very messy divorce.