Disdain for Trump is a plus for Mexico's government

In Mexico, Trump is widely known and widely disliked – but he also presents an opportunity for the government to paint itself as a victim, not a villain

In Mexico, Donald Trump has been mocked, vilified and – in piñata form – beaten to smithereens. He has inspired scorn, foreboding and a signature taco dish with lots of tongue, a little bit of brains and pig’s snout.

The presumptive Republican nominee’s comments on Mexican migrants, his threats to build a border wall and finance it with remittance payments have roused powerful emotions, not least bewilderment: the real estate mogul’s rise came as polls showed that Mexico’s historic anti-Americanism had started to diminish.

Trump appears to have changed that. “We used to view Americans as somehow distant, somehow weird, somehow unrelated to us, sometimes insensitive to what we think and do,” says Manuel Molano, deputy director of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a thinktank. “But this is really something else.”

But gauging Mexican’s reactions to Trump can prove a tricky proposition: responses often reflect self-interest, local political agendas, or socioeconomic status, with rich Mexicans apparently more concerned than their poor compatriots by Trump’s shot at the US presidency.

There is also plenty of opportunism at play, especially among the media outlets, public intellectuals and politicians such as former president Vicente Fox, who have proved ready to take on Trump, but reticent to call out Mexico’s own political class and its failure to deal with poverty, crime, economic stagnation and corruption – the very issues that have prompted millions of migrants to head north.

“Trump is a perfect piñata: noisy, colourful and there are plenty of nationalist points to score,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, director of the journalism program at the Centre for Research and Teaching Economics.

Polls show that in Mexico, Trump is widely known and widely disliked. The middle classes, though, appear unable to criticize the real estate magnate without also mentioning their own deeply unpopular president Enrique Peña Nieto, whose own ratings – 66% disapproval – hover at Trump-like levels.

In March, the government unveiled its plans for a diplomatic push to improve the country’s image and counter Trump’s narrative that Mexican migrants are rapists and murderers.

“I think Trump is truly the most unfortunate person we have seen recently in politics,” said Armando Regil, an independent political analyst in Mexico City. “But first we have to recognize our mistakes at home and correct and rethink them before pointing a finger at our neighbour.”

The anti-Trump sentiment also appears to have its limits in a country currently consumed with rage over corruption and violent crime. Some observers sound almost conspiratorial in talking about Trump, calling his constant appearance in the media “a distraction” from other pressing problems.

“Trump is the great symbolic ally of Mexico,” said the writer Juan Villoro recently. “He’s given victimhood to the government. Now a country that cannot uphold the law can get ahead as a victim, instead of a villain.”

Political opportunism is rife. Earlier this year, the marginal New Alliance party ran adverts in which young people demanded respect for Mexico and then delivered a message to Donald Trump – which consisted of a homophobic slur often hurled at soccer matches.

“With that level shown by Mexican politicians … how can [the Americans] not respect us?” asked the website Sopitas sarcastically.

Concern appears most acute in the political and business classes who fear that Trump could torpedo closer economic ties with the US.

“It’s their pocketbooks that will be most affected if Trump comes to pass,” said Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “It’s not surprising at all [their preoccupation]. They’re not defending peasants. They couldn’t give a hoot about them.”

Some analysts see domestic politics at play in Trump reactions, especially Peña Nieto’s September 2015 speech to the UN general assembly in which he warned of populism. American observers saw that as a veiled allusion to Trump. At home, however, it was seen as an attack on the Mexican left’s perennial presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who leads the polls for the 2018 election.

“I think [elites] are worried about the rising populism because they are afraid of López Obrador … not these changes Donald Trump is proposing,” said Viridiana Ríos, fellow at the Wilson Centre, a Washington thinktank.

Working-class Mexicans seem surprisingly less preoccupied with a possible Trump presidency, preferring to focus on pocketbook issues instead.

“When I’m talking to my friends, classmates, neighbours … it’s not a topic we’re interested in at the moment because it’s not impacting us,” said Daniel Serrano, a university student. “Inflation, the devaluation of the peso, this is what worries us.”

Others figured that Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for a border wall was an empty threat.

“We’re so deep in debt,” said Lorena Andrade, a single mother at a López Obrador rally, “We can’t afford to pay for a wall.”

The Guardian | Donald Trump Mexico

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