Trump has befuddled his most ardent and intelligent supporters. What is going on with our neighbor to the south? The geopolitical peril of USA-Mexico estrangement is that Mexico turns to China as an economic and military partner. This is indeed a problem for the USA, but Mexico’s turn toward China had started before the 2016 election. Trump’s rhetoric may be giving the Mexican authorities justification for this rapprochement with China, but I think it would be happening anyway as Mexico transitions from the regional power it has been under NAFTA to more of a global economic power. It just makes sense for Mexico to diversify its economic collaboration, and so this embrace of China frankly would have happened regardless of Trump’s election.
Behind the populist bluster, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Trump has reassessed his approach toward Mexico. Trump demands a renegotiation of NAFTA, for example, but there are indications he will demand fairly minor changes to the pact. Jared Kushner’s pro-NAFTA stance is all too clear, and he is the voice in the White House that seems to carry the most weight, while Steve Bannon’s economic nationalism has fallen by the wayside. Kushner is the Trump Administration’s envoy to Mexico, and Kushner favors a policy of continued collaboration between the two nations. Both nations have to speak tough words against the other for the purposes of domestic political consumption, but my sense is that the old hands on both sides are going to do what it takes to put the underlying USA-Mexico relationship in order. At the end of the day, the USA does not want the Chinese to be Mexico’s primary partner, and the Mexican elite does not want to see AMLO elected President. The elites in both nations have vested interests in defanging Trump and in defeating at the polls AMLO. With respect to defanging Trump, we are seeing that now with Bannon’s fall from grace and with the quiet moderation of many of Trump’s campaign promises regarding Mexico.
The border wall always has been a campaign gimmick. My guess is that funding for the wall is not going to be part of the spending package that is negotiated between the GOP and the Democrat leadership in Congress. Trump will obtain a fake “future commitment” to fund the wall, or he will get enough money to start construction with the rest “coming later.” He will call that a “victory.” Even if funded the border wall construction will be held up by land use lawsuits and by bureaucratic delays. Already, Trump has walked back his old “Mexico will pay for the wall” promise, and he has replaced the mass deportation promise with the policy of getting rid of violent criminals (largely the same as Obama’s deportation emphasis actually). Trump is right to deport violent felons and to go after sanctuary cities that refuse to work with the federal government in getting violent felons out of our country. That seems to be his policy focus, as it should be. My sense is that within both the USA and Mexico heated rhetoric about the migration of persons across the Rio Grande is predominantly for domestic political consumption. The American politicians promising a crackdown on migration want to sound like they are protecting our own laborers, and the Mexican politicians protecting migration want to sound like they are standing up for Mexican pride. Both sides are playing games with the issue, while the elites on both sides are working to perpetuate collaboration between the USA and Mexico on a host of issues.
Has the president been blackmailed by the Deep State? On a lot of issues, Trump has abandoned the populism and isolationism of his campaign. He is getting more, not less, involved in Syria. He has embraced NATO. He is getting tough on Russia. He no longer accuses China of manipulating its currency. He has dropped his support for other populist politicians, like Le Pen in France, in favor of establishment leaders. As stated, he is now in the process of resuming normal ties with Mexico, notwithstanding the occasional red meat he will throw to his base with his border wall rhetoric. In so many ways, Trump has embraced the policies of a more typical Republican President. America First nationalists like myself are losing faith in him already. My guess is that in another year or two his policies will be indistinguishable from what a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio would have pursued.
Michael Sean Erickson is a political consultant, film producer, an essayist, an Anglican Catholic Priest, a stage actor, and a husband, He is also the author of The Lost Sombrero, Beautiful Catrina, and Dream Time. Originally from San Jose, California, he had lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, before moving more recently to Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, Sharon, and their Shih Tzu, Shansi.