It was always going to come back to Mexico. On the heels of pressuring Georgia officials to commit electoral fraud by “finding” him some 11,000 votes and orchestrating last week’s violent assault on the US Congress to impede the certification of his defeat, President Trump is somehow still allowed to fly down to the border tomorrow on our Air Force One, for a last rhetorical stand at Alamo.
That’s Alamo, Texas, mind you, not the iconic Alamo of Davy Crokett-versus-Santa Anna fame in San Antonio. But the metaphor still fits.
It’s also fitting that the president would turn in his hour of desperation to his racist anti-immigrant theme, and the boasts of his beloved (and still largely imaginary) wall. Say this for Trump’s original promise on that front: Had we given him four more years to keep “making America great,” some in Mexico might indeed have ended up offering to pay for the barrier, to protect themselves from the mayhem up north.
Trump’s fixation with the southern border and Mexico has been a constant throughout his erratic presidency. Rapist Mexicans will forever be remembered as the substantive and tonal takeaway of his campaign kickoff back in 2015.
Which makes it all the more striking that Mexico’s own president remains one of Trump’s few remaining allies on the world stage, at least judging by Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador’s obscene delay in recognizing Joe Biden’s victory and his expressed concern over what he considers social media platforms’ “censorship” of the US president. AMLO, it turns out, is proving more loyal to Trump than Mitch McConnell or Mike Pence.
I wrote last summer, somewhat in jest, that perhaps AMLO’s endgame with Trump was to offer him asylum in Mexico, but it would be a lot less surprising now if Trump didn’t slip across the border at Alamo to evade any number of looming prosecutions (intriguingly, AMLO has offered Julian Assange asylum in recent days).
The reason AMLO empathizes so strongly with Trump’s current plight is no mystery, once you acknowledge the similarities between both men. Both feel that a leader taking on cosmopolitan and liberal (and I use that term in its classic sense) elites in the name of “the people” is entitled to create and define his own convenient reality, and enjoy unlimited control over all party and state instruments to advance his personal/nostalgic populist agenda. Both leaders consider their grievances so grave, their ends so justified, that no objective reality should be allowed to stand in their way, certainly not at a time when culture is favorably pre-disposed to the idea of relativity when it comes to truth, and when you can fashion alternative realities via relentless tweeting or daily propaganda shows that masquerade as a press conference.
AMLO is the master of alternative realities, having proclaimed himself “legitimate president” upon losing the 2006 election, so seeing Trump act like his apprentice since the November 3 vote was only going to make the identification between the two men grow stronger.
What’s more, AMLO must find it repulsive to see so many independent actors in a democracy standing up to a populist leader seeking to impose his own version of reality. He sees media outlets declare Biden’s election victory (as has long been the tradition in US); independent courts reject countless challenges by Trump; and private corporations reacting to last Wednesday’s attempted insurrection with an energetic “de-platformation”of Trump. ¡Qué horror!
This is all shocking and offensive to Mexico’s president: journalists, judges, and corporate leaders pushing back on a president, acting as guardians of their democracy and truth — roles that in AMLO’s worldview are the exclusive prerogatives of government.
It is nonsense to claim that Donald Trump’s rights are being violated, or that we should fear censorship. His obnoxious speech was long tolerated; he wasn’t knocked offline until his delusional claims of fraud led to a call for a mob to storm the Congress and obstruct the validation of his defeat at the polls. Private companies like Twitter and Facebook are not the government and can impose whatever terms of service they want for users, as we are often and rightly reminded. But it’s interesting that in the case of Trump’s words last week, they might not even have been protected by the First Amendment had a government official tried to silence him. As the Supreme Court has ruled in its landmark 1969 Brandenburg case, speech can be limited if it is intended and likely to incite imminent violence.
But AMLO seems far less alarmed by Trump’s behavior than he is by the actions of all these independent actors in American society standing up to a demagogic president spewing a crazed, alternative reality.
The worrisome question for Mexico’s immediate future is: Why does AMLO find this so alarming?
* 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