Ever since Donald Trump assumed the US presidency in January 2017, Washington saw its relations with quite a few countries take a turn for the worse, including the ties with Mexico.
One of Trump’s most controversial policies has been his proposal to build a 3,141-kilometer wall along the US-Mexico border to stop the influx of illegal immigrants.
Even if one were to set aside various questionable aspects and implications of the plan, building the wall is estimated to cost anywhere between US$8 billion and US$30 billion, and chances for Congress to approve funding for the project are absolutely remote.
Nevertheless, Trump hasn’t let go of his rhetoric as he believes a border wall will help secure his existing support base and also allow him to push new demographic frontiers.
The fact is that the “Mexico card” has already become an important tool for US politicians.
At present, Latinos account for some 17 percent of the total population in the United States. And 60 percent of Latino-Americans are of Mexican descent, many of whom are living in the southwest region, and having the tendency to spread into other parts of the country.
Being able to understand Spanish would definitely make one’s everyday life much more convenient in southern US. And this growing phenomenon has been reflected not only in Hollywood movies, but also in the American food menus, many of which are of Mexican cuisine.
Apart from businessmen, US politicians are also increasingly eying Latino-American voters. As far as the voting pattern of Latinos is concerned, 60 percent of them tend to vote for the Democrats and 40 percent for the Republicans.
Meanwhile, white Americans living in southern states are predominantly pro-GOP, and are exactly the demographic group that Trump is aggressively after.
To these conservative white southerners, the Latino culture apparently doesn’t represent “the genuine America”. And playing the “Mexico card” has proven a powerful means through which Republican politicians can appeal to these white voters.
As a matter of fact, at different times in US history, the government’s perceptions of Latinos has varied.
For example, sometimes Latinos would be regarded as white people, and sometimes they would be differentiated from the “white Americans”.
However, over the decades, the Latinos’ average income, academic qualifications and social status have usually been lower than those of their white counterparts.
Also, the rapidly growing population of Latino-Americans in recent years has given rise to a lot of “Latino slums” scattered across the US, many of which are often ridden with drug problems.
Among the recent Central American caravan of migrants trekking through Mexico into the US, there are also syndicates of human traffickers controlled by drug dealers embedded in them, it is alleged.
That probably explains why Trump’s vow to crack down on illegal immigrants in order to uphold law and order on US soil has struck a deep chord among his supporters in the south.
Nonetheless, the problem is, as long as the numbers of Latino-Americans and their political influence continue to expand, it would become increasingly difficult for the GOP to stick to its current policies toward Mexican immigrants.
Besides, the more Washington alienates the Latinos, the easier it would become for Beijing to help establish its foothold in Latin America.
The recently sworn-in Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a left-wing populist who is at the opposite end of the political spectrum in relation to Trump.
The new Mexican leader acknowledges that he is under an obligation to help the poor and the underprivileged in society, including those Mexicans who have been rejected by Trump.
Given the situation, one can expect a lot of variables in the interactions between the two leaders in the days ahead.
In my opinion, if Trump is only focused on short-term political gains, then chances are, he would continue to play the “Mexico card” as relentlessly as the way he is mounting the trade war against China.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 19
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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