With one phone call, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador can shift attention away from his administration’s handling of Covid-19, cement his reputation as a humanitarian peacemaker, and, best of all, help resolve most of the dire problems facing the United States.
All he needs to do is call Donald Trump and offer him and his family asylum in Mexico; maybe even offer to send over a plane to pick him up, as he did for Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
The offer would uphold Mexico’s status as a welcoming refuge for notable exiles, whose roster has included José Martí, legions of intellectuals fleeing Franco’s takeover of Spain, Leon Trotsky, Fidel Castro, Rigoberta Menchú, and, most recently, Evo.
Trump would be wise to take him up on the offer. After all, Russia is his other obvious choice of exile, as it was for the Spanish Republicans fleeing Spain at the end of that country’s Civil War. And well, the food, climate, and life expectancy for political exiles in Mexico are far better (yes, even accounting for poor Trotsky). Plus, in abdicating the besieged White House for a lovely hacienda on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende or a flashy condo in Cancún, the Trumps would be following another, lesser known, historical precedent: the flight of thousands of their beloved Confederates to Mexico at the end of the U.S. Civil War.
Emperor Maximilian was in charge of Mexico (spoiler alert: barely) when the U.S. Civil War came to a close, and he encouraged Confederates to come to Mexico. An estimated 8 to 10 thousand Confederates did so, including General “Fighting Jo” Shelby, Texas Gov. Pendelton Murrah, Tennessee Gov. Isham Harris, and Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, an influential naval and scientific figure who sought to establish a “New Virginia” in Central Mexico. There was even an English language newspaper established for this community (no, no, not Mexico Today by Reforma, but Mexican Times).
The Dixielandia dream came to an abrupt end, given the implosion of the larger imperial dream that had brought the hapless Hapsburg prince to the Mexican throne. Juarista Republican forces, backed by Washington, were as hostile to the Confederates in their midst as they were to the European interlopers. But never mind that – presumably AMLO will prove a more trustworthy host and guarantor of Trump’s safety and comfort.
Trump’s days are numbered. The president’s reality TV show might have “jumped the shark,” as they say in the industry, this past week. Trump pivoted from his incompetent handling of a global pandemic and autocratic tantrums against legitimate protesters to defending, not for the first time, those who fought to destroy the United States and preserve slavery. Military leaders and Republican Congressional leaders recognize it is no longer appropriate to have U.S. military bases named after Confederate generals, but the president is trying to block their renaming. Either he overestimates the number of like-minded racists in the United States, or he is doing his best to accelerate his Mexican retirement.
Trump’s Confederate fetish fits his pattern of what might be charitably described as confused loyalties. We’re coming up on the anniversary of the president’s “perfect phone call” that led to his impeachment, when he suggested to Ukraine’s leader that he wouldn’t act in accordance with the two countries’ strategic interests unless the Ukrainians helped him dig up dirt on the Bidens. And that came on top of Trump’s infatuation with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Recep Erdogan, and Viktor Orbán – not to mention his disdain for the traditional allies of the U.S., and world leaders who share our democratic ideals.
Fear has provided Trump’s bizarre movement of uneducated white grievance its governing cohesion. Mainstream Republicans have allowed themselves to be held as docile hostages for fear of crossing the president’s vocal supporters. But a competing fear may seal Trump’s fate – the fear of being ridiculed by history for one’s unquestioned loyalty to a president who wakes up every morning so determined to wage war against American values.
The military has distanced itself from the White House, with Trump’s former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying this was the first president in his lifetime who “does not try to unite the American people;” the current Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicting Trump on whether it’s appropriate to deploy active-duty troops to handle protests; and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, apologizing for being part of Trump’s staged bible-waving photo-op in front of St. John’s Church, after the forceful removal of protesters from Lafayette Square.
Congressional Republicans have been slower to break with the president, but cracks are starting to show in their united front, with Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski saying they can’t support the president’s re-election. And last week, the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee went against Trump by voting to require the Pentagon to rename those bases named after Confederate generals. Even NASCAR, a cultural bastion of Trump voters, has banned the Confederate flag from its competitions.
Trump is erratic and unstable in the best of times, so now a growing concern is how he will react to the prospect of a massive electoral setback. He is threatening to sue media outlets for unflattering polls, and preemptively sowing mistrust of voting by mail (the tweets that finally caused Twitter to flag his questionable veracity). And remember how Trump absurdly tried blaming his 2016 loss in the popular vote on millions of undocumented voters?
We should all be very concerned about the foreign policy mischief Trump might engineer on the eve of an election he fears losing, or the domestic turmoil he might unleash by refusing to accept the electorate’s verdict.
This is why AMLO needs to come to the rescue. A Mexican exile would provide Trump with an expedient, comfortable out, allowing him to avoid humiliation. AMLO should offer the Trumps as enticing a deal as possible, assuring them he will shield them from any future U.S. prosecution. Perhaps he could also throw in some sweetheart concessions for the boys to develop Mexican resorts, and offer a guayabera-wearing Jared Kushner a consultancy to Morena’s leadership. Ivanka could preside over the American Chamber of Commerce in San Miguel de Allende, or establish a Nuevo Mar-a-Lago somewhere along the Riviera Maya. Whatever it takes.
AMLO would be criticized on both sides of the border for helping and protecting Trump, but the move should appeal to his Christian sense of duty to help those in need, and his yearning for Mexico to stay true to its noble humanitarian traditions. Moreover, by offering Trump a haven beyond the reach of U.S. authorities, AMLO would be pulling off the trick of both upholding Mexican sovereignty vis-à-vis the United States, while playing a key role in saving American democracy.
Come on, AMLO. Make the call.
* Andrés Martínez is a professor of practice in the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and the editorial director of Future Tense, a Washington, D.C.-based ideas journalism partnership between ASU, Slate magazine, and New America .Twitter: @AndresDCmtz