Who Won?

In your own language

Eduardo del Buey
Foto: Reuters
La Jornada Maya

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Last week I told an interviewer from one of Mexico’s major news services that President Donald Trump’s tweet that the US would impose sliding tariffs on Mexican imports was a bluff. That it would not enjoy the support of Republican members of Congress since Republicans are the party of free trade and the Democrats would never hand Trump a political victory.

I also told the interviewer that Trump is solely focused on his possible re-election in 2020. This entails two major strategies: convince his base that he has lived up to his election promises of 2016, and show that he is capable of taking the same bold steps that he took on 2015 and 2016 when he ran his unorthodox campaign with politically incorrect objectives and using the language of hatred and division.

His tweets against Mexico were vicious in their language and content – nothing new here. He continued to meld lies and bluster, yet I told the interviewer that I considered this a bluff on Trump’s part. Recent history has shown us that Trump is anything but a great negotiator, and that he contradicts himself so often that he is really divorced from any sense of reality.

Recent history has also shown us that Trump manufactures crisis in order to disrupt the lives of many and then resolves the crisis of his own making in order to appear to be the hero in the eyes of his followers. The reason he does this is because he cares not a whit about foreign or domestic audiences. His only concern is for his base – that 40 per cent of true believers who will support him regardless of whatever he does.

His main objective is to see that his base continues to support him. Consequently, he seeks to demonstrate to them that he is doing all that he can to meet his promises. He is taking on China, something that needs to be addressed, however with little regard for the impact that this has on US consumers. He has fought to institute his ban on Muslims entering the country and the fact that he has been thwarted by the courts only serves to underscore the beliefs he shares with his supporters that the US justice system is rigged and that only he can appoint the conservative judges the country needs to get back on the track that the far right considers appropriate.

He continues to paint the situation on the US/Mexico border as critical – an attempt no doubt to both deflect attention from the impact of his own, personal domestic problems as well as to cast the Congress as the culprit in not allowing him to build his wall – a wall that was the mainstay of his 2016 campaign.

So, it came as no surprise to me that Mexico once again became the whipping boy for Trump’s petulant and mendacious nature.

What impressed me was the Mexican reaction.

The Mexican government at no time responded to Trump’s tweets with similar language. President Lopez Obrador made it clear that he had no intention of getting into a war of tweets or a war of words with the US President.

Instead, he called for dialogue and restraint.

He sent a delegation to negotiate with their US counterparts while Trump threatened and fumed. Quiet diplomacy on Mexico’s part was met with strong Republican opposition to Trump’s plan, since exports to Mexico account for 5 million US jobs, and the highly integrated North American value chains would suffer terrible damage with significant effects on the US economy and the jobs of the very workers who vote for Trump.

While both sides negotiated an agreement, it was Trump’s threat of tariffs that led the discussions and a resolution of the crisis on his terms.

However, the Mexican government also demonstrated its ability to deal with a mercurial president through patience and restraint, appearing professional and diplomatic against the brute force of a bully.

To be sure, Mexico has adopted some new policies in response to the US threat. But what choice did it have? Unlike North Korea, China, or Iran, the Mexican economy is completely dependent on the United States. US tariffs as high as 25 per cent could well have affected the US economy negatively, but they would have crippled Mexico’s, leading to massive layoffs in key industries with the concomitant social unrest. Therefor, Mexico’s decision to come to terms with its northern neighbor.

The Mexican response may lead some to conclude that Mexico capitulated to Trump’s tantrum, and they may be right. But, in my opinion, the only choice that Mexico had was to meet US demands without being drawn into the kind of fight that would have led Trump to escalade the tarrifs.

Trump’s actions should come as no surprise to those who have followed his career closely.

What has surprised some favorably is the fact that for the first time since Trump took office prominent Republican legislators came out against his policy and criticized his disdain for US business and workers with his cavalier actions so detrimental to US interests.

Is this the beginning of a cleavage within Republican circles, or is it a blip in an otherwise onslaught by Republicans to recast the country as a right of center highly conservative country with the judiciary and congress under the thumb of a president with little regard for the strength and independence of its institutions?

I believe it is but a blip. CNN interviewed a number of Trump supporters who have suffered from the effects of is trade wars but yet continue to support Trump because, in the words of one interviewee, the President has their backs and is fulfilling his promises. The fact that he is not meeting his goals is the fault of others, in their view.

So, to raise the question on many minds, will Trump win in 2020?

It is actually quite possible.

The Democrats are highly divided between the center and the far left. To date, no candidate has emerged who can successfully bring both sides of the party together and produce a policy platform that unites Democrats, while attracting the vote of independent centrists and moderate Republicans who do not agree with what their party has become.

So the US has a long way to go before it gets rid of this divisive and mendacious president, and opposition leaders face an uphill battle in gaining enough strength and achieving enough unity to meet this goal.

In this case, while Mexico may seem to have won by getting the tariffs removed from the negotiating table for moderate concessions, Trump achieved his goal of proving to his base that he respects the promises he has made to them and, as the interviewee cited above said, has their backs.

So which side won? That depends on your perspective.

In my view the both sides won. Although economically and militarily weaker, Mexico demonstrated its moral strength and dignity by not lowering itself to Trump’s level and avoiding Trump’s escalating the dispute. Meanwhile, the US got an agreement from Mexico to do its bidding with respect to controlling and, possible, deterring, the inflow of Central American migrants.

In the short term, this may well only be a moral victory for Mexico.

Until the next time Trump feels the need to distract the attention of the US public from another one of his legal problems by bullying or trying to humiliate his weaker neighbor.