A Little Carrot and a Lot of Stick

First, Donald Trump visits the Mexican president, then he gives an anxiously awaited speech on immigration policy. There, a few moderate and many shrill notes. And at the end of the day, Trump’s credibility is again being questioned.

If the election in November were about which presidential candidate is being discussed most in the American media, nobody would be able to beat Donald Trump. It was no coincidence that he happened to accept the invitation by Mexico’s head of state, Peña Nieto, just a few short hours ahead of his widely publicized and oft-postponed speech on the topic of immigration. Rather, Trump’s goal may have been to absolutely dominate the day’s news coverage yet again. Mission accomplished.

Even commentators who are not sympathetic to the Republican candidate are claiming that Trump’s brief visit to Mexico is a PR coup. The fact that the president invited Trump to the country whose inhabitants Trump denigrated as criminals and rapists at the outset of his campaign, and whose company and government he has blamed for many of the United States’ problems, shows that Trump has come a long way. Just a few months ago, Peña Nieto compared Trump to the dictators Mussolini and Hitler due to the latter’s xenophobic utterances; now he is shaking Trump’s hand.

Who Will Pay for the Ominous Wall?

For his part, Peña Nieto calls Trump “a friend” and Mexicans “honest people” who “deserve everybody’s respect.” In the discussion, many important points were still open and bluntly addressed, according to Trump in the subsequent press conference. His central campaign demand – that Mexico should pay for the construction of his 3,000-kilometer long (1,860 mile) planned wall along the common border – was not a topic of discussion, however. “That will come at a later point in time,” Peña Nieto definitively contradicted a few hours later via Twitter. Financing the wall was indeed a topic. Right at the beginning of the discussion, he says he made it clear to Trump that Mexico would never pay for the project.

Whoever is right, it is striking that Trump is behaving astonishingly tame on his foreign visit. “Coward,” critics call him, but “diplomatic” and “presidential” say his supporters. Border security is still in the interest of both states, Trump explains. The free trade treaty, NAFTA, which he has heretofore always called a “disaster,” is suddenly just a contract that “has been a far greater benefit to Mexico” than to the United States and therefore must be revised. Trump even presents himself as a righteous champion of the entire Western Hemisphere, whose states must band together against economic competition from China and other parts of the world. He used the word hemisphere several times, leading the well-known Mexican journalist Enrique Acevedo to deride that “make our hemisphere great again” might actually be the new motto of the Trump campaign.

180 Degree Turn in a Few Hours

When Trump gave his anxiously awaited speech on immigration policies that evening in Phoenix after his visit to Mexico, there was no mention of the border-spanning interests of the hemisphere. “USA, USA, USA,” chants the crowd and Trump applauds his fans. If more evidence were needed that the political newcomer is infamous for adapting to his audience in both style and content, look no further than his two appearances on Aug. 31. Considering so much flexibility, many Americans wonder more than ever what Trump truly stands for – also and especially on his favorite topic, combating illegal immigration.

In Phoenix, the Trump camp had made multiple statements in the past weeks and months in which the candidate repeatedly contradicted himself, like saying he would clearly outline the central positions of his potential presidency. But he only partially fulfilled this promise. Although Trump announced that he will completely end illegal immigration with the help of a ten-point plan, many of the points repeat themselves or are so vaguely worded that, though some questions were indeed answered, far more remain open.

The border wall? It will definitely be constructed and “one hundred percent” paid for by Mexico. “They don’t know it yet, but they will pay for it.”

Refugees from Syria? They’ll be kept outside. “We have no idea who these people are.” Foreign criminals who live in the country illegally? They are to be deported ASAP. “Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone.” But the presidential candidate leaves open the question of what would happen to the other, estimated 10.5 million, illegal immigrants whose only crime was to unlawfully cross the border and who live a normal life in the United States. Under no circumstances, according to Trump, shall those people obtain legal residency, much less citizenship. This time, Trump does not say whether he wants to track them down and kick them out, as he has already promised in this campaign.

Normal, Aggressive Speech

But even if he seems to have become a little more moderate on this one point, all in all, it was a very aggressive speech that Trump held in Phoenix. “Immigration reform… should mean improvements to our laws and policies to make life better for American citizens,” according to the 70-year old. He speculates, to the joy of his bellowing supporters, whether his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, might also be deported. She and the incumbent Obama are responsible, after all, for so many foreign criminals being able to get up to nefarious deeds, said Trump. At the end of his speech, Trump even brought people on stage who lost family members to crimes allegedly committed by non-Americans illegally living in the country.

“Nationalism on steroids,” Trump critic Bakari Sellers calls this dog whistle appearance in Phoenix that does not at all fit with the moderate tone that Trump displayed that day in Mexico City. Not for the first time have observers speculated that Trump wants to win over the undecided voters of the political middle with a quiet and more cautious position – far from it, as the evening shows. Whether it is particularly credible that Trump constantly shows one then another face will be discussed late into the night in many American media outlets. Just like the question of whether Trump was telling the truth in regards to the content of his discussion with Mexico’s president.

There is one thing, however, that the wall builder has achieved in any case: He is being talked about.

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