Why in the name of Moctezuma did Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto invite Republican presidential nominee – and sophomoric Mexico basher – Donald Trump to a south-of-the-border pow-wow today?
Perhaps Peña Nieto – whose popularity in Mexico has sunk about one orange hair above Trump’s – felt he needed a photo op getting tough with The Donald for being a xenophobic Hitler (Peña Nieto’s words, not mine). Or maybe he thought he could talk some sense into the GOP candidate before his big immigration speech tonight – and before Peña Nieto delivers his state-of-the-nation address tomorrow.
Either way, what Peña Nieto and Mexico got out of this looks as muddy as the Rio Grande.
But it’s crystal clear why Trump jumped for this political twofer in Mexico City.
It gave him a chance to look like a diplomat instead of a demagogue to his legion of detractors in the U.S. Meanwhile, his army of U.S. fans could imagine him as General Pershing roaring into Mexico to show Pancho Villa and all those raping, murdering, drug-trafficking migrants (Trump’s words, not mine) who el jefe is.
Whatever their reasons, I’m just glad Enrique and Donald hooked up – because it placed the Ugly Cause of illegal immigration and the Ugly Response to illegal immigration in the same camera frame for us to ogle.
Four years into his six-year term, Peña Nieto and his Jimmy Neutron bouffant are one more reminder of why so many Mexicans and Latin Americans desperately ditch their countries and head north.
When Peña Nieto was elected in 2012 at age 45, America hoped he’d usher in a more transparent, 21st-century Mexico. One that would let democratic institutions flourish and reduce the criminal violence and economic inequality that make the country a perennial underachiever – and push thousands of migrants into the U.S. each year.
Instead, he and his party, the PRI – which ruled Mexico as a one-party dictatorship for most of the 20th century – have turned out to be just the latest landlords of authoritarian corruption, drug cartel mayhem, police and army abuse, lame economic growth – and poverty, which has actually risen since 2012.
Peña Nieto himself has figured prominently in much of that desmadre, or utter mess – right up to the latest scandal involving a report this month that he plagiarized almost a third of his law school thesis.
And he’s in bad company. Scratch a country that’s sending hordes of undocumented immigrants over the U.S. border and you’ll usually find the same dark dysfunction, be it right-wing rule in Honduras or left-wing rule in El Salvador.
Which brings us to those migrants’ ultimate destination – Planet Trump.
The U.S is the world’s richest and freest country. So you’d think it’s capable of crafting an immigration system that both regulates and accommodates the flow in a sensible manner.
And you’d be wrong.
It's utterly incapable of addressing immigration reform. It's a nation where a populist poser like Trump can become the standard bearer of the Republican Party – the cohort most responsible for blocking immigration solutions – by espousing hysterical planks like border walls, mass deportation and the nativist demonization of whole populations like Mexicans and Muslims.
It's an economy that relies on cheap – and, face it, undocumented – immigrant labor to do jobs we won’t do. Yet its politics, instead of debating pertinent ideas like updated guest worker programs, rewards blowhards like Trump for demanding we expel the fruit harvesters and bed changers because they depress wages.
Or, when that doesn’t work, for falsely accusing immigrants of being rapists and murderers and, what the heck, baby organ thieves.
So what was missing from the reportedly cordial Peña Nieto-Trump confab was a third party. A Mexican migrant.
Someone who’d turn to Enrique and say, “You’ve got a hell of a nerve calling him Hitler when you’re the reason I had to leave my family in Oaxaca.” And who’d turn to Donald and say, “You’ve got a hell of a nerve calling me a rapist when I’m the only guy who will work in your squalid poultry plants.”
But that won't be heard in Trump’s speech tonight – nor in Peña Nieto’s tomorrow.