2 Very Bad Presidents

We have two terrible presidents. That is the sad reality of Mexico and the United States.

When we needed two capable leaders during one of the most difficult moments of the troubled bilateral relationship, Enrique Peña Nieto and Donald Trump fell upon us. We could say it is bad luck. But the reality is that it is our fault. Trump and Peña came to power thanks to the silence of many. And silence is complicity.

Trump is the anti-immigrant bully who makes racist, sexist, and xenophobic statements. He lies and attacks the press when it does something he does not like. And he is a bad neighbor. The same day that he announced his candidacy for president (July 16, 2015), he called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. Later he threatened to order mass deportations, to construct a useless wall along the 3,185 kilometers (1,979 miles) of the Mexican border, and to end the North American Free Trade Agreement that has generated millions of jobs in three countries.

Nieto is a timid and frightened politician, who arrived at the presidency in the middle of accusations of fraud by his main opponent, someone who has no moral strength (it didn’t seem at all strange that his wife bought a $7 million house from a government contractor) and a man under whose leadership 43 students from Ayotzinapa disappeared three years ago and still no one knows where they are. Some 87,758 Mexicans have been killed during his 6-year term (as of Aug. 31, 2017).

In no other country would such a president last five years. Nieto has made Mexico a country of graves and has failed in his responsibility to protect the lives of Mexicans. His administration could become the bloodiest in recent Mexican history, even more than Felipe Calderon’s when 104,089 were killed, according to official figures.

It’s about two very unpopular presidents. A Reforma poll (July 2017) indicated that only one Mexican out of five approve of Nieto (20 percent approve and 78 percent disapprove). Trump isn’t much better. Only 38.7 percent of Americans agree with his style of government (and 54.8 percent disapprove, according to the website FiveThirtyEight).

They are also two very vain presidents. The two have done very little and are too concerned about their image. Trump tweets to promote himself, and Nieto has spent millions of pesos, ahead of his fifth government report, to tell us that the good is almost never counted.

We have in Trump and Nieto two leaders who don’t speak for us, and who have to govern at the moment of greatest tension between both nations in decades.

Distrust marks the relation between Mexico and the United States today. Sixty-five percent of Mexicans have a negative opinion of the United States, according to a recent poll by Pew Central. And in the United States, a similar phenomenon exists. Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly said recently that Mexico was a “failed narcostate,” according to reports by The New York Times and other media, and that it is in danger of “collapse” equal to Venezuela.

This is the perfect storm: two mediocre and disliked candidates, an environment full of suspicion and little possibility that things will change in the short term. Nieto never understood that confronting Trump was a question of national dignity and would have saved his last stretch in office. Only a new president can change the addictive and submissive dynamic with Trump.

This reminds me of two books by Carlos Fuentes, whose clarity and courage we are so lacking. In his book, “The Buried Mirror,” he says: “This border … in reality is not a border but a scar. Will it be closed forever? Or will it bleed someday?”

The answers to these questions are in his other books. One of the characters in “The Crystal Frontier” says, “He dreamed of the border and saw it as a huge bleeding wound.” That’s where we’re standing right now.

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