We have two terrible presidents — this is the sad reality in Mexico and the United States. What we need right now are two capable leaders who can deal with a truly difficult moment in the countries’ bilateral relationship. Instead, we’ve ended up with Enrique Peña Nieto and Donald Trump.
We could say it’s just bad luck but, in fact, we made our own luck. Trump and Peña Nieto were elected to office because many of us on both sides of the border remained silent when it came time to choose a leader, and silence is always an accomplice.
Trump is an anti-immigrant bully who’s made racist, sexist and xenophobic remarks, both as a candidate and as president. He lies, and attacks the press when he doesn’t like the news. And he’s a bad neighbor. The same day he announced he was running for president he likened us, Mexican immigrants, to criminals and rapists. Then he threatened to order mass deportations, build a useless wall along the almost 2,000-mile border with Mexico and pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has created millions of jobs in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
On the other side of the border is Peña Nieto, a cringing and fearful politician who became president in 2012 amid allegations of fraud by his primary opponent. He lacks moral clarity — Peña Nieto thought, for instance, that there was nothing wrong when his wife bought a $7 million house from a government contractor. And he has proven to be ineffective as a leader. After three years, he says he still doesn’t know what happened to the 43 missing college students from Ayotzinapa. And almost 88,000 Mexicans have been killed during his tenure, according to government statistics through late August.
Such a leader would never have lasted five years in any other country. Peña Nieto has failed to protect the lives of Mexicans, which is his primary duty. Instead, he has turned Mexico into a graveyard: His administration might turn out to be the bloodiest in the country’s modern history, bloodier than that of Felipe Calderón, during whose tenure 104,089 Mexicans were killed, according to official records.
Both presidents are extremely unpopular. A July survey from Reforma, a newspaper in Mexico City, showed that only 1 out of 5 Mexicans approves of Peña Nieto’s performance. In the U.S., Trump isn’t doing much better. About 38% of Americans approve of his approach to governance, and about 55% do not, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.
Both presidents are also very vain. They’ve accomplished very little, yet they are overly concerned about their images. Trump tweets nonstop to promote himself. And before delivering his fifth state of the union address, Peña Nieto spent millions of dollars on a promotional campaign lamenting the fact that people never talk about the good things happening in Mexico. Trump and Peña Nieto are two leaders who simply don’t represent their people.
The relationship between Mexico and the United States is marked by distrust. According to a recent Pew survey, 65% of Mexicans have an unfavorable view of the United States. Meanwhile, John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, has labeled Mexico a failed narco-state, according to a report in Reforma, and recently likened Mexico to Venezuela, saying Mexico was on the verge of collapse, according to The New York Times.
This is a perfect storm. Two mediocre and disliked presidents, an atmosphere full of suspicion and very low prospects that things will change anytime soon. Peña Nieto never understood that confronting Trump was a matter of national dignity, and that doing so could have salvaged the final days of his administration. Only a new president will be able to move us away from Peña Nieto’s submissive dynamics with Trump.
The situation reminds me of a couple of books by Carlos Fuentes, the late author whose clarity and bravery are much needed today. In “The Buried Mirror,” he writes, “The U.S.-Mexico border ... is not really a border but a scar. Will it heal? Will it bleed once more?”
The answer can be found in another tale of his. Juan Zamora, a character in “The Crystal Frontier,” remarks, “He dreamed about the border, and saw it as an enormous bloody wound.”
That’s where we are right now.