For a few short hours on Wednesday Enrique Pena Nieto was NOT the most unpopular man in Mexico. During that brief window the mantle was happily shouldered by presidential wannabee Donald Trump.
Trump had called Mexican immigrants murderers, rapists and drug dealers. Mexico was “not our friend.” If elected, he says he will deport 11 million illegal Mexican immigrants and build a “big, beautiful” 1,900 mile long, 50 foot high wall along the Mexican-American border—and the Mexicans will pay for it.
It is unsurprising that a new booming business in Mexico is pinatas sporting blonde bouffant hair styles.
Pena Nieto responded to the Trump diatribes by accusing him of spreading hatred and fear and compared him to Mussolini and Hitler. Then he invited him to Mexico and the pair smiled and shook hands.
Near the front of the diplomatic rule book is the instruction: Don’t invite your mortal foe to tea. Doing so gives them, their policies and views credibility. It also gives them a platform on which to prove themselves presidential and statesmanlike.
Trump did just that. At the joint press conference he abandoned his strident campaigning style for the calm, reasoned approach of a statesman. He looked every inch a president as he talked about the “wonderful, wonderful” man whom he just met. Trump was handed the golden opportunity to disprove the opposition claim that he is temperamentally unsuited to be president. He grabbed it and rose to the occasion with a superb performance.
That night, safely back in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump reverted to tub-thumping demagogic tones which his supporters have come to know and love. Mexicans were no longer wonderful people and he reaffirmed his deportation and wall-building plans; thus proving that the Trump anti-establishment outsider can be as two-faced as any Washington insider.
The following day polls showed a significant narrowing of the Trump-Clinton gap.
So why did President Enrique Pena Nieto invite Trump to Mexico? Because the Mexican president is hated. His approval rating is a mere 23%. He must have thought, perhaps I can make myself more popular by inviting to Mexico a man who is even less popular than I am.
Why is Pena Nieto so unpopular? Well, for a start, he is corrupt. His actress wife Angelica Rivera built a $7 million home and claimed she paid for it out of her earnings as a soap star. An investigative journalist proved that it was financed by a government contractor. The president and his wife were forced to apologise.
Next, there is the president’s persistent failure to control the Mexican drug cartels. Last year gang warfare meant that the murder rate jumped 8.5 percent. There were 17,013 murders in Mexico, four times the homicide rate north of the border.
Finally, there is the president’s handling of his education reform plans. The plans themselves are reasonable enough. He wants teachers to pass exams before they are allowed to teach. It is the implementation that is the problem. The teaching unions object to the end of entrenched privileges and are striking and demonstrating. Pena Nieto’s response is to lock them up. Or, in one case, kill them, as happened at a demonstration where four teachers were shot and killed by police and 30 wounded.
So did Pena Nieto’s plan work? Is he more popular? Has he deflected criticism from his regime to Trump’s persona? Absolutely not. No sooner had the Donald stepped onto Trump One then the Mexican social media was tearing their president apart. Mexican historian Enrique Krauze wrote: “It’s a historic error. You confront tyrants. You don’t appease them.”
Tom Arms broadcasts on world affairs for a number of US radio stations including WTKF, all of which can also be heard on LookAhead News. His Weekly Viewpoints discussion programme can be heard at 1830 EST on Wednesdays and his LookAhead at the next week’s main events on Fridays at 1800.
LookAhead Radio World Report for week commencing 5 September: