Monday, April 17, 2017
Mexican Nationalism is not the Answer
to Trump's Ill Will
By Gema Santamaría
The feasibility of U.S.-Mexico cooperation
is under challenge. President Donald Trump’s approach to the bilateral relation on matters of security, migration, and
trade has been driven by unilateral, aggressive, and exclusionary proposals. Although most of these proposals have yet to
translate into concrete policies, they have already proven to be detrimental for the trust and potential cooperation between
the two countries.
In terms of security cooperation, for instance,
Trump has privileged a defensive, militarized, and reactive discourse. His proposed “great wall” aimed to fortify
the U.S.-Mexico border synthetizes his conception of security; one in which the “bad hombres” are kept outside
the U.S. territory by simply closing off the border and increasing police and military presence, all without the cooperation
– less so the consent – of its southern neighbor. The notion of shared responsibility, which shaped the Mérida
Initiative and informed most cooperation under past administrations, has been virtually abandoned. Instead, Mexico has been
presented to the U.S. public as the sole bearer of America’s security challenges – from illegal migration to availability
of drugs and common crime.
In the face of this unilateral and aggressive
approach to the bilateral relation, what can (or should) Mexico do? Mexico’s response towards Trump has been, up until
now, equivocal at best. From Trump’s visit to Mexico as presidential candidate, to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s
cancelled visit to the U.S. in the midst of Trump’s twitter declarations, Mexico has proven incapable of articulating
a coherent message towards Trump’s provocations. For some, this expresses Peña Nieto’s government lack
of strategy on matters of foreign policy; for others, it only reflects the natural challenges that a U.S. twitter-driven and
erratic foreign policy poses for Mexico or for any other country used to traditional diplomatic channels.
Beyond this official response, however, Mexico’s reaction to Trump has also included
a revival of nationalism, from people on the left but also on the center and right of the political spectrum. This revival
includes disjointed calls on social media to boycott “gringo” companies – most notably Starbucks –
and to consume “only national” products, as well as appeals made to Twitter and Facebook users to feature the
Mexican flag on their profile pictures. It furthermore involves public demands to defend the dignity and honor of the nation
by expressing solidarity with the Mexican government as well as overt repudiation towards Trump’s politics. It is such
nationalistic spirit that informed the anti-Trump mobilization convoked on February 12th under the names “Vibra México”
(Mexico Vibes) and “Mexicanos Unidos” (Mexicans United). It is also this mood which has informed publications
and statements made by some Mexican public intellectuals and figures. For instance, the last issue of Letras Libres, directed by Enrique Krauze, features on its cover an image that emulates Mexico’s national emblem: the
Mexican eagle devours a snake that, in this case, wears a blond Trump-style hairdo. One article in the issue identifies Trump’s provocations as an opportunity to assert a “morally superior”
position on behalf of Mexico, while another one openly identifies Mexico’s nationalism as an asset vis-à-vis the U.S. government’s suggestion
to renegotiate or abandon NAFTA.
A call for nationalism
is, however, the wrong answer to Trump’s policies. Beyond its shortsighted and potentially chauvinistic nature, a call
for nationalism can very easily translate into a call for loyalty and lack of criticism towards the current government. History
has demonstrated that anti-American sentiments can and have been used by political elites in moments of crisis, as a means
to create consensus, overcome divisiveness, and even conceal a government’s lack of legitimacy. In a moment when citizens
need to make their government accountable for the impunity, corruption, and human rights abuses impacting the country, nationalism
cannot be an option.
Mexico’s response to Trump should
assert the country’s commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation, not only in terms of trade –
which at times seems to be the only issue on the agenda – but on matters of security, human rights, and the rule of
law. A critique of Trump’s securitized understanding of immigration should also include a critique of Mexico’s
own failure to adopt a more integral migration policy on its southern border, one that is capable of protecting Central American
immigrants from the rampage of organized crime. Furthermore, a critical stance towards Trump’s reactive and militarized
vision of security should also involve a call to move beyond Mexico’s own militarized, short-term, and repressive response
toward insecurity and violence.
Frustrated by the anticipated
failure of the above-mentioned anti-Trump mobilization, Enrique Krauze twittered that not attending the protest was a sign of “passivity, indifference, and even cowardice” on behalf of
Mexican citizens. The failure of the anti-Trump mobilization is not, however, to be found in the so-called cowardice of Mexicans.
It is to be found in the incapacity to move beyond a call for nationalism that has been paired with an uncritical stance towards
Mexican’s own government. Mexico does not need nationalistic and “brave” citizens. It needs, instead, a
citizenry committed to international cooperation, transparency, and critical engagement that can call into question another
government’s equivocal policies while remaining critical of its own.
This article was first published on Apr. 11 at openDemocracy.net, under a Creative Commons license. Gema Santamaría is an Assistant Professor in the International
Studies Department of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. She holds a PhD in History and Sociology
from the New School for Social Research.