Until recently, Andrés Manuel López Obrador believed Donald Trump was racist. “Yes, yes,” he confirmed to me in an interview. That’s why it was so surprising that he was so determined and naive when he announced his upcoming trip to Washington, the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Mexican president's trip to the White House – I suppose aboard a commercial flight – is loaded with risks. And all for just a photo.
The first risk is manipulation. Trump urgently needs help to get more Hispanic votes in the next election. Currently, the president has the support of only 21 percent of Hispanics, according to a recent poll by Latino Decisions. That’s far below the 29 percent of the Hispanic vote he won in the 2016 election. Trump knows that without Latinos he cannot stay in the White House. And that's why he's inviting/using López Obrador.
Those who have worked with Trump know his only concern right now is his reelection. “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision … that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations,” John Bolton, who was his national security advisor from April 2018 through September 2019, wrote in his new book.
Everything Trump does is for his own benefit. Everything. And López Obrador is mistaken if he thinks that he is going to beat Trump at his own game, in his own home. Not speaking English, it will be nearly impossible for the president of Mexico to impose his issues, like he does in his morning news conferences in Mexico, at a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House.
If López Obrador truly does not want Trump to use him as an electoral campaign poster, the smartest thing is to postpone the visit until after the elections on Nov. 3.
The other risk is betrayal and indifference toward the 12 million Mexicans, born in Mexico, who like me live in the United States. López Obrador is making exactly the same mistake as former president Enrique Peña Nieto, who met with Trump in Mexico City before an election. At that time, Peña Nieto did not dare criticize Trump's absurd idea that Mexico would pay for a new wall along the border, or refute his racist comments against Mexican immigrants. ("They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” the then-presidential candidate said in June 2015.
And now López Obrador is just as hushed. Wasn't he supposed to be the president of all Mexicans, independently of where they lived? Our criticism of AMLO is the same we had of Peña Nieto. They have abandoned Mexican immigrants in the United States. No one defends them from Trump. He appears to be very far from the politician who in 2017 published the book Oye Trump (Listen Trump) – a powerful criticism of the abuses suffered by Mexican immigrants in the north – and who told me in an interview that same year that Trump was racist.
“Is Trump racist?” I asked him.
“Yes, yes, he has shown that,” López Obrador told me. “He whips up racism. Yes. He is against foreigners. But he doesn't feel it like that. It is a political strategy. I mean, I am clarifying that. But he has hurt us a lot.”
I very much doubt that would be López Obrador’s tone in the White House, in front of the most anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant president the United States has had in decades. AMLO, since he became president, has made an enormous effort to avoid conflicts with Trump. And the new trade agreement between Mexico, the United States and Canada is the result of that diplomatic strategy. But it is very disappointing that the president remains silent in the face of the Trump insults and attacks.
Mexico has sadly agreed that thousands of Central Americans should remain in its territory, under terrible conditions, while they wait out their applications for U.S. asylum. And just hours before AMLO announced his visit, Trump was stamping his signature on a new stretch of wall along the Arizona border with Mexico.
History will judge Trump harshly, as well as those who turned into silent accomplices of his racist and anti-immigrant policies.
President López Obrador: postpone you trip and wait until U.S. voters decide, in less than five months, what to do with Trump. What’s the hurry?