President Donald Trump is a bully.
And there are only three ways to deal with people like him: Agree to let them have their way, ignore them completely or confront them. It seems that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, as he’s known, has chosen the third of these options, and rightly so. He recently sent a letter directly to Trump that contained a clear warning, perhaps even a threat: “I’m neither a coward nor timid.”
Of course, this was only a first step in AMLO’s effort to address Trump’s tariff threats against Mexico, the most challenging international crisis his administration has faced thus far. Nevertheless, AMLO’s words ultimately fell short. The Mexican government must take concrete actions to fight back. Letters alone will not suffice.
The only thing that Trump respects is power. Nothing else matters to him (which might explain the soft spot he seems to have for autocrats like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un). And contrary to what many people might think, Mexico holds a strong position with respect to the United States, given that it’s one of the top markets for U.S. products. Mexico also helps control the northbound flow of drugs and immigrants into the United States, and is the only nation in the world that can do so. The United States needs Mexico, and that’s the message we must keep repeating.
Trump often ignores the advice of his Cabinet and his family when responding to foreign policy challenges. This time was no exception. Trump’s tariff threats against Mexico have made it clear that relying on the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to serve as some sort of advocate for Mexico — as AMLO’s predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, did — is a mistake. In the end, Trump always does as he pleases.
López Obrador’s warning to Trump suggests his administration will be willing to act with strength and determination to solve this crisis. There are many possibilities as to what this might involve. Diplomacy, however, doesn’t appear to be among the viable options.
When Trump increased tariffs on China recently, Beijing responded decisively, announcing that it would raise tariffs on roughly $60 billion worth of U.S. products. China is standing up to Trump, and Mexico must do the same. Words are useless in a situation such as this.
The bottom line is that American consumers will end up paying more for Chinese and Mexican goods. This, of course, has nothing to do with Trump’s immigration concerns.
This crisis was created by the complete lack of either efficiency or humanity with which the Trump administration handled the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants at its southern border. Yet the administration continues to expect Mexico to solve the problem. Let’s be clear: Mexican authorities have no obligation to act as Trump’s immigration police.
Mexico must maintain its current asylum policy and protect Central American families, resisting the Trumpian temptation to deport every foreigner who enters the country illegally. We should never forget that millions of Mexicans live without protection in the United States. We should treat Central Americans in Mexico the same way we would like Mexican citizens to be treated in the United States. It is a moral obligation.
I’m afraid this crisis is not going to end any time soon. Trump is already in full campaign mode. His attacks on Mexican immigrants worked so well for him in 2016 — when he characterized them as criminals, rapists and drug dealers — that he will surely rely on this tactic again to secure his reelection. Mexico is his enemy of choice.
This is precisely why Mexico must make a bold move to confront Trump now. With Election Day arriving on Nov. 3, 2020, Trump could be out of office as soon January 2021. Two dozen Democratic candidates are ready to replace him.
As for his impeachment, I wouldn’t put any bets on it. Even if the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach, there simply aren’t enough Republicans in the Senate willing to convict him, and thus remove a leader of their own party.
Millions of Mexicans, even many who didn’t vote for him, will support AMLO if he confronts Trump. Peña Nieto never understood that standing up for his country and challenging a bully like Trump was important, and not only for economic reasons. It was a matter of dignity for all Mexicans. López Obrador should never forget that.