This was Televisa news anchor Carlos Molet de Lora’s reaction to Donald Trump’s defiant words during his visit to Mexico, where he reiterated his intention to build a border wall and offered no apology for calling Mexican immigrants “rapists and criminals.” What made it worse, as Molet de Lora suggested, is that Trump delivered the slap “in our face and home.”
But what made Mexicans across the board really, really mad was that their president, Enrique Peña Nieto, stood by silently, impassive, neither denouncing the idea of a wall nor demanding an apology for Trump’s insults against Mexicans.
The reaction of the Mexican people to their president’s pusillanimous performance was nearly unanimous, immediate and furious. Political parties and politicians, from the right of center PAN to the left of center PRD, condemned Peña Nieto in the strongest terms. Some of the harshest criticism came from writers, filmmakers and other intellectuals.
Peña Nieto’s grave and inexplicable mistake was to ignore an element at the very core of Mexican identity and the sense of historical grievance that colors the Mexican people’s attitude toward the United States. In the wake of the Trump visit, a critic of the Mexican president put the matter as succinctly as possible: “We Mexicans have memory and dignity.”
The withering criticism was warranted, inevitable and predictable. The Oscar winning film director Alejandro Gónzalez Iñarruti, in an article published in the Spanish daily El País, said he felt “profound sadness, indignation, and shame.” He described the Mexican president’s invitation to Donald Trump as “treason.” The filmmaker wrote: “It is to endorse and lend official status to he who has insulted us, spat on us, and threatened us.” Former president Vicente Fox, a pro-American ex-Coca Cola executive said Trump was invited but wasn’t welcome. Novelist Angeles Mastretta wrote what happened was what was expected “of a president who isn’t capable of demanding apologies.”
Having made the mistake of inviting Trump, the least the Mexican people expected of their leader was a flurry of tough counterpunches, pushback against Trump’s vile depiction of Mexican immigrants, his hostile plan for building a wall, and his arrogance and audacity in demanding the Mexican government pay for it. Peña Nieto did not even try to lay a glove on Trump. The predominant sentiment is that the president didn’t stand up to a bully, worse of all a gringo bully, and in failing to do so allowed the entire nation to be humiliated.
To add insult to injury, back in the United States Trump delivered a hardline speech on immigration, insisting that Mexico would pay for the wall, and that he had said that to Peña Nieto in their private meeting, receiving no reply. Peña Nieto denied the issue of payment for the wall had even been discussed.
Mexican presidents cannot seek reelection, and Peña Nieto’s approval rating was 20 percent before the Trump debacle. What happens to him from here on in is a question of history and legacy rather than politics. Mexican history will remember him as a figure of scorn.
For Trump, however, the visit was a political plus, despite some downsides. To Republicans and others who hate and distrust Clinton with a passion totally disproportional to her modest failures, especially in comparison with Trump’s monumental flaws, the picture of Trump and Peña Nieto shaking hands will help them convince themselves that Donald Trump can be diplomatic and look presidential. These are people who despise the idea of Hillary in the White House and are grasping at any straw to say to themselves that, after all, Trump is not a madman.
Trump’s hard-core white nationalist base could interpret the trip in one of two ways. One reading is that it is part of an unwelcome general softening of Trump’s position on immigration and Mexicans. The other interpretation is that it all amounted to Trump saying to Mexico (and by extension all other countries): I will spit in your face, then you will shake my hand.
Incidentally, Peña Nieto might have redeemed himself for his silence by one simple gesture, an act of trickery in the Donald Trump tradition. He might have feigned extending his right hand to Trump in a handshake, then, as if thinking better of it, putting it in his pocket, leaving Trump with his hand in the air and egg on his face. That would have been a fair turning of the tables on Trump, who accepted an invitation his host had expected to be declined, putting the Mexican president in an unviable position, and then making matters worse with his rhetoric about the wall.
The small downside for Trump is that his Mexico visit managed to anger even some of his so-called Hispanic committee. That’s quite a feat given that it’s hard to imagine any self-respecting Latino having accepted serving on such a group. Still, several members of the group did resign. One even issued a statement that the group was “a scam intended for optics only.” Duh!
Moreover, to mollify his supporters who fear he is getting soft on immigrants, Trump reiterated his original draconian positions in his speech in Arizona after returning from Mexico. Great for the base but not so much for the Republican National Committee, the leaders of which fervently hoped Trump would stop scaring away Republicans and independents by moderating his message and his tone.
Arizona GOP Senator Jeff Flake characterizes Trump’s immigration stance as confusing, and following a 360-degree rotation, ending in exactly the same place it began. The reason for the muddle and the rotation is that Trump is trying to square the circle: trying to lure at least some voters like Latinos, Asians and blacks with meaningless “outreach” while ensuring the support of his elite troops by continuing to feed them raw meat.
Not doable. That’s one of the reasons I am convinced Trump will lose, in spite of the continuing chatter in the media about Trump being within striking distance and Clinton’s high “negatives.” But I find the fact that we are even talking at this point about striking distance, after all that Trump has said and done – not to mention who he is as a human being – very disturbing and depressing. What are so many of the American people thinking, and can they even think clearly enough to overcome their irrational aversion to Clinton?
There is one thing that would drastically change my current mood. That is dealing Trump in particular and the Republican party in general a crushing defeat in November. Let’s stop listening to endless pseudo-analysis in the corporate media and just get it done.
[Editor’s Note: Hillary Clinton on Monday (Sept. 5) declined an invitation to visit Mexico extended by that country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto. For details, click here.]