Is the glass half-full? Or half-empty? It depends on one’s perspective. 

Take the election of the new president of Mexico, a year ago, of AMLO – Andrés Manuél López Obrador. (Uh, oh; he has more than Trump’s insistence on only two names!) 

Many Mexicans, especially the small elite, see his election as the worst possible choice. The glass, they feel, is less than half-empty.

Others (70 percent ) hope it means an improvement in their lives, that the glass is filling? Some of them even think Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric helped in AMLO’s win; it encouraged stronger nationalistic Mexican sentiment among the masses.  

AMLO, for his part, repeated throughout his campaign: “The Fatherland Comes First!” He stressed “inequality” as Mexico’s main problem—hence, his emphasis on tax reform—making the rich pay their fair share. Hence, their resistance to his administration and personality. (He calls them “Fi-fi’s,” a term from the Porfiriato meaning effeminate or stuck-up; they call him much worse.) 

The previous administration of Enrique Peña Nieto was “obsequious” to the U.S. and “complicit in a culture of wholesale corruption” (John Lee Anderson,”Error of Comparison,” New Yorker, 3 July 18). Mexicans were also tired of being robbed at the ballot box; when AMLO lost in 2006 by less than half of one percent, “most suspected electoral fraud, largely fomented by big business” (New Yorker). AMLO has endeavored to distance himself from the past, largely by cutting budgets in government, living and traveling modestly, visiting many poor communities far from Mexico City.

Similarities exist between AMLO and Trump, both pulling off surprising upsets. But AMLO’s populism is not built on Trump-style hatred of “the other,” but on the belief that “Mexicans can overcome their current tough reality through “hard work, pride, and resourcefulness”(New Yorker). AMLO calls for not only self-improvement of Mexico, but a “new Marshall Plan” for all of Central America (Tim Hains, Real Clear Politics, 3 April 18). To achieve those lofty goals, Profesor Humberto Beck, of the prestigious El Colégio de México, argues AMLO “won’t confront Trump openly” but will try to “build bridges of cooperation” (Real Clear Politics).  He has recently proposed a meeting with Trump in September (France 24, 21 June 19).

Besides Benito Juárez, who led the fight to remove French rule from Mexico, AMLO admires most Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If his philosophy be any part socialistic, it is no more so than just that of FDR’s—a belief in government social security aid to workers and their health, and to education and public infrastructure. Mexico may not, as of now, have all the resources needed, but some of the cuts (such as the new national airport) have that goal in mind. We cannot forget AMLO inherited a “faltering economy and a belligerent neighbor” (Eric Martin, Bloomberg, 24 July19).

About AMLO’s pledge to “restore security,” many—friends and foes—are hedging their bets. Gruesome and mounting murder figures are daunting. His policy of utilizing a new National Guard under civilian command has just begun. Thousands of troops had to be diverted, in order to try to slow crossings at the southern border, giving in to Trump’s blackmail. 

AMLO has had to be conciliatory, complying with Trump’s pressure—not an enviable position for any official, let alone a proud, nationalistic one. He has also been forced to accept Trump’s alternative to NAFTA, the less elegant initials of USMCA — U.S.,Mexico and Canada Agreement. Neither policy is in Mexico’s best interest; both serve the interests of U.S. multinational corporations.

AMLO has seen some improvement in Mexico and of his own image through his travels. He tours the countryside, utilizing the presidency as a Mexican “bully pulpit,” speaking to the poor, showing up at small towns, eating at local taco stands; so did famous, beloved by the poor, President Lázaro Cárdenas in the 1930s, as he attempted to “nationalize” Mexico after the terrible violence of the Revolution. 

AMLO’s broader goal is to try to change the very image of government, to “make sure political power will not be used against the people.” He is “left wing” on distributive issues but “conservative on social issues” (Federico Estévez, 30 June 19, The Guardian). In pursuing these goals and using these tactics, he has incurred the wrath of much of the media—he can be quite rude to any publication, such as La Reforma, that might attack him; therein lies at least one similarity with Trump, but for entirely different reasons; AMLO is, to an extent, a real populist—for the underdog–Trump only a pretend populist, perhaps more a “Fi-fi?,” arrogant, cavorting and consorting with the super-rich.

Our two countries—Mexico and the U.S.–are still inextricably intertwined. Perhaps the glasses  mentioned above are not two different glasses, but the same glass, certainly interconnected? The “peso plunged when Trump threatened ‘tariffs’ against Mexico” (Dayna Reyes, Bloomberg, 31 May 19, cited in Rio Grande Guardian). He relented, but effects of the threats keep business and people on edge. Here on the border with Mexico, we lament, as we see more immediately, the slowing of trade, the unnecessary anxiety created as a result of Trump’s rhetoric. 

Fortunately, we have good neighbors. Mayor Maki Ortiz of Reynosa, cautions “Let’s Stay Calm” (Steve Taylor, Rio Grande Guardian, 12 Dec 18). She is a member of the PAN, a right-of-center party, but joins many officials across Mexico, of all parties, who look to “sink or swim” together with their fellow citizens. She has hope for AMLO’s Border Development Plan; she knows it will help first, and most, her sister city of Matamoros, which is governed by MORENA, AMLO’s party. 

But Ortiz is confident the very geo-political nature of Reynosa’s location, so near McAllen and the rest of the Valley of south Texas will assure its consideration by the central government. She almost—but not quite—sees AMLO, as does Economics Professor, Kevin Peck, South Texas College, McAllen, as “Mexico’s Last Best Hope” (Blanca Gómez, Rio Grande Guardian, 13 Nov 18). She knows the U.S.-Mexican border is the longest border in the world between a developed and a developing country. She knows Mexico is the U.S.’s second largest export partner and third in total world trade. That is, the business of Mexico is business.

Her Honor, the Mayor, also knows U.S. tourism is Mexico’s third major source of revenue. She knows how both countries depend on each other.  She agrees with AMLO; both realize inequality within Mexico must be reduced, as must inequality between the U.S. and Mexico. Can the U.S. glass be full for long, if the Mexican glass is evaporating? We can see, clearly, the pernicious effects—on our nation’s reputation and our individual well-being–of jingoism and racism. We can, we must, learn from Mexico, as she struggles economically and develops democratically.   

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows México President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. (Photo courtesy of Cuartoscuro)