It may not be the biggest news of the day, but it is important in two ways: 1) it shows us, as if we didn’t already know, the character, or lack thereof, of the man who is called “president”, and 2) it proves the point that all the rhetoric about “building a wall” along the U.S.-Mexican border was never anything more than talk, a way to gain the support of the conservatives whose goal is to “make America white again”.
On Thursday morning, The Washington Post published a transcript obtained by the Post’s Greg Miller of Donald Trump’s call to Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto on 27 January. The gist of the conversation is that Trump told Peña Nieto that the wall is not really that important, but that he needed Peña Nieto to stop saying publicly that Mexico would not pay for the wall, as it was making him (Trump) look bad. He threated Peña Nieto with tariffs and ultimately threatened to cease the friendly relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. A few of the more salient moments:
Trump: “The only thing I will ask you though is on the wall, you and I both have a political problem. My people stand up and say, “Mexico will pay for the wall” and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to.
So what I would like to recommend is – if we are going to have continued dialogue – we will work out the wall. They are going to say, “who is going to pay for the wall, Mr. President?” to both of us, and we should both say, “we will work it out.”
Because you and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall. From a political standpoint, that is what we will say. We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out. Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about.”
Peña Nieto: “I understand you well, Mr. President. I understand this critical point and I understand the critical political position that this constitutes for your country and for you, Mr. President. Let us look for a creative way to jump over this obstacle. I clearly understand what this issue constitutes for you in the United States.“
Trump: “Okay, Enrique, that is fine and I think it is fair. I do not bring up the wall but when the press brings up the wall, I will say, “let us see how it is going – let us see how it is working out with Mexico.” Because from an economic issue, it is the least important thing we were talking about, but psychologically, it means something so let us just say “we will work it out.” And if you want to do that, then we will go back to the negotiation table with Jared and Luis. And I am sure they can work something out that is good for both nations, and obviously that would be a positive thing. And I am sort of in this bad position because the deal that they are making is not nearly as good as the deal I could impose tomorrow – in fact this afternoon. I do not have to go back to Congress or to the Senate. I do not need the vote of 400 people. I have the powers to do all of this, and I came to the office this morning and I met with a group of people – we had a plan to just go into what I wanted to do for two years. But I know what you are saying, it is something that is good for you. It is very important for you to understand this – I want the best solution also for Mexico.”
The remainder of the conversation centered around the drug trade and trade in general, and ended on a cordial note. President Peña Nieto’s approval rating at that time was somewhere between 12% and 17%, even lower than Trump’s. He did himself no favour among his people when he stopped saying publicly that Mexico would not pay for Trump’s wall.
The important take in all of this is that Trump doesn’t actually care whether the wall gets built or not, and likely never did. It was rhetoric, pure and simple. It was an idea – a bad one at that – that riled the masses, that incited the people who wrongly believed that stopping immigrants from entering the U.S. would somehow improve the economy and society of the U.S. Trump told them so, and blindly, without thinking too long or hard, they believed and they cheered and they voted for the man with the plan for a wall.
Mind you, the wall was never a sound idea to begin with. It would have cost an estimated $67 billion by the time all costs were taken into account, and taken 3.5 years to build. Mexico was never going to pay for the wall, and despite Trump’s threats, there is no way to force them to. The wall would not have stopped illegal immigration. The wall would have damaged the economies of both Mexico and the U.S. Tourism would have dropped dramatically, trade would have been diminished, and the relationship between the two countries damaged. More importantly, there are other ways, far cheaper ways, to get a handle on illegal immigration.
The wall was never meant to be … it was only meant to serve one purpose. Trump lied to get votes. No surprise, but I feel pity for his supporters for whom the border wall and ban on Muslim immigrants were the key reason for supporting him. First, because they were duped by a con man, and second because their views are so narrow that they have shut themselves off from the rich culture of the rest of the world. And yet … undoubtedly they will find a way to justify Trump’s lies and deceit once again.