Viva Mexico, and Us, and Both of Us

Unsurprisingly enough, America’s diplomatic relationship with Mexico is currently rather contentious. A planned meeting between American President Donald Trump and Mexican President Pena Nieto has been called off, angry “tweets” have been exchanged, populist pressures are being brought to bear on both leaders, and it’s the sort of thing you hate to have going with a neighbor.
Relationships with neighbors can go sour from time to time no matter how hard one tries, and we have a few stories of our own you could empathize with, but for the most part we and the rest of America have been rather lucky. The United States of America only has two abutting neighbors, which is a good start, and compared to what Israel or Finland or Jerry Seinfeld had to put up with they’ve not been very troublesome. Except for the War of 1812 and all that fuss about “fifty-four forty or fight” back in 1818 Canada has been a good neighbor, even if they are rather snooty about their single payer health care system and have a strange tendency to punt on third downs, and even if we did delay that XL Pipeline all through the Obama years and our relatively low income tax system allows us to consistently beat up on their sports teams.
The relationship with Mexico has been more complicated, what with that Mexican-American War and the Marines marching into the Halls of Montezuma back in the 1840s, and the resulting re-drawing of the maps of both countries, and that other time in the early 20th century that the American military went into Mexican territory in hot pursuit of Pancho Villa’s marauding bands, not to mention their disputes with American oil companies and the many decades or argument about the large numbers of Mexicans seeking and finding employment in America and countless other quarrels. Despite it all there have been diplomatic protocols and trade agreements peso bailouts and other arrangements, and no outright wars between the two countries for the past 169 years, which is not bad by historical international standards.
In the current dispute we think that America can make a convincing case for itself. Whatever the still-disputed causes of that long-ago Mexican-American War we think the the re-drawing of the map it wrought turned out best for the people who found themselves on the north side of it, and we doubt that many of them of any ethnicity would want to revisit the matter, and in any case we think that America should resist such revanchism there just as it should in the Ukraine and the islands of the South China Seas. In the unlikely event that rebels intent on overthrowing the American are wreaking havoc in northern Mexico we wouldn’t mind the Mexicans the chasing them into American territory, and the nationalization of American-financed and American-made and duly negotiated oil industries still strikes us as outright theft, and the very significant influx of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants that has occurred since does include a certain number of rapists and other criminals and seems a decidedly mixed blessing for both countries, and the idea of enforcing borders seems altogether reasonable, and some of those trade deals probably could have turned out better for America.
We’re still hoping for an amicable resolution to the latest quarrels, but only with faint hope. Trump’s constantly repeated campaign promise to build a literal wall between the countries is now an executive action, threats of making Mexico pay for it through a 20 percent import tax and other measures have been expounded by his press secretary and “tweeted” on his almighty account and will soon be taken up by Congress, and after that imbroglio with the American judge of Mexican ancestry who was presiding over the Trump University lawsuit that Trump wound up settling for $25 million and the rest of the campaign rhetoric it’s hard to argue that Trump has a certain animosity toward Mexicans. Mexicans are no more amicable to Trump, judging by the red hot market for Trump pinatas and mass protests on both sides of the border, and although Nieto offered an ill-advised helping hand by inviting candidate to a presidential-looking Trump to a state visit back when things were still up for grabs he’s now forced by overwhelming public to take a more adversarial stance against his self-proclaimed adversary.
Our experience of dealing with neighbors has taught us to well consider their positions, and in the current matter we can well understand why they’re miffed about being asked to pay for a wall to separate them from us and all the implicit and explicit anti-Mexican rhetoric that has gone along with it. Perhaps it’s another of Trump’s brilliant negotiation ploys to start from such an antagonistic position, but all of Trump’s past negotiations were with other businessmen who weren’t accountable to millions of Mexicans who felt their pride had been impugned by such tactics, and even then he still occasionally wound up in bankruptcy. If the currently unpopular yet relatively sane Nieto does succumb to Trump’s art of the deal he’ll likely be replaced in an upcoming election by one of those Latin American socialist demagogues who wins election by fanning the flames of resentment against the damned Yanquis, just as Trump won in part by fanning the flames of resentment against Latin Americans, and the next round of negotiations will be even more contentious.
Even in the worst case scenario it probably won’t come to another outright war, given that Mexican national pride lags far further behind its military prowess than it did even back in the 1840s, and despite the havoc it would wreak on America the Mexicans would would be advised to avoid a trade war, given that the past century and a half of Mexican socialism hasn’t improved its economic standing relative to the Americans, even if Trump and his more nationalistic supporters think that a huge portion of the American middle class wealth has been redistributed down there, but by now it should obvious even in America what people will endure as a matter of national pride. A mutually beneficial situation with Mexico could be worked out, just as we’ve managed mostly successful relationships with the many Mexican and Mexican-Americans we daily encounter here in the heartland, such as that comely Mexican-American woman who sells the best-deal-in-town donuts at the nearby Juarez Bakery with a mellifluous “buenos dias” and the guys who make the Carne Asada at the Lopex drive-thru late at night and the Esteban Jordan y Rio Jordan conjunto that we sometimes play on the cassette player,  but we can’t see it ending well if either side insists on winning.

— Bud Norman

A Moment of Doubt

A great despondency has descended over conservatives over for the past five years or so, and with good reason, but it might cheer them to consider how very dispirited a liberal must now feel.
The conservatives’ despair is one of powerlessness, most acutely felt in the aftermath of the recent failed government shutdown battle to de-fund Obamacare and wound up with the right-wing insurgents getting bad press and battered poll numbers and plenty of Obamacare, but there’s always a chance another election cycle or two could restore them some power. The liberals’ despair derives from having power and finding that nothing they do with it works as promised, which is most abundantly evident from the aftermath of the Republicans’ failure to de-fund Obamacare, and this cannot be so easily rectified.
Such is the cocksureness of modern liberalism that even the manifest failures of Obamacare have not shaken the faith of the true believers, nor lowered the upturned chins of the president and his administration as they assure a rate-shocked nation that it will come to love paying more of its ever more hard-earned money for coverage they don’t want or need in order to subsidize the poor choices of people they don’t know and probably wouldn’t like, but among the less stridently faithful signs of doubt are beginning to appear. First-person stories by reporters who have lost the health insurance coverage that they liked and were promised by the president that they could keep are now a staple of even the most reliably liberal press organs, formerly loyal mass media satirists from Jon Stewart to Saturday Night Live are now mocking the administration’s ineptitude in implementing Obamacare, and it’s likely that millions of suddenly un-covered Obama supporters without printing presses or television cameras have reached the same angry conclusions. A few hardy journalists and entertainers have dug in to make the argument that Obama might have lied about people keeping their coverage and saving a bunch of money on it but only because people are too stupid to understand that losing their coverage and paying more for less is a better deal, but they can’t be enjoying it.
Liberalism in general doesn’t seem to be much to fun these days. The increasingly evident problems with Obamacare are the most depressing, given that it was supposed to the greatest achievement of the greatest president of all time, but none of the rest seems to be working as planned. When the pork-laden and deficit-swelling “stimulus” bill objectively failed to make good on any of its promises the true believers could argue that at least it kept the economy from sliding into depression and the earth from sliding out of its orbit and into the sun. but four years and seven trillion dollars of debt and millions of discouraged workers later the president’s economic record requires even more inventive defenses. Scandals ranging from Fast and Furious to the Pigford settlement to Solyndra to the president’s extravagantly expensive lifestyle to the Internal Revenue Service’s assaults on free speech and the right to petition for grievances can be easily ignored, given the media’s eager complicity, but it still makes a holier-than-Bush attitude harder to maintain. Increased drone strikes and pointless Afghanistan troop surges and a national security snooping apparatus that exceeds the wildest dreams of crazed Dick Cheney also make the Obama administration’s foreign policy hard to defend the earnest Bush-hater, and the “lead from behind” maneuvers that have handed the Middle East over to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and a soon-to-be-nuclear-armed Iranian theocracy make it hard to explain how a more Nobel Peace-prize winning appeasement strategy would have fared any better.
Things have gotten so bad that even the gray-bearded and hidebound liberal columnist for the local “alternative weekly” that caters to the hipster crowd is grousing about Obama. He seems to believe that the only problem with Obama are a computer glitch that should have been fixed, and overly protective Nation Security Agency, and that uncharacteristic itch to go to war with Syria a while back, but at least he’s willing to admit to some dissatisfaction with his great leader. At the hipster coffee bar where we pick up the “alternative weekly” most of the regulars don’t evince any interest in politics at all. Five years ago the same hip and tattooed denizens of the bistro were all abuzz about hope and change, and were committed to occupying this or that, but these days they seem more preoccupied by whatever gossipy text messages are flashing on their cell phones. All of the liberals of our acquaintance seem eager to talk about something other politics, and less certain that they can deliver on their promises of utopia anymore than their great leader could deliver on a promise that people could keep their insurance, and the great liberal moment seems to have passed.
This does not mean the conservatives’ moment has arrived, of course, and it will be another year before any political power can be restored to their movement, but it seems likely that the conservatives’ anger will grow stronger and the liberals’ cocksureness weaker in the meantime.

— Bud Norman