Demanding some basic respect


Donald Trump cancelled a meeting with the Mexican President last Thursday, because Enrique Peña Nieto had said the night before that his country would not be paying for the “wall”. The President of the United States went on declaring that: “Unless Mexico will treat the US fairly, with respect, such a meeting is fruitless.”

Excuse me, Mr. President? Your administration and particularly you personally are not treating Mexico fairly. And I am not seeing a lot of respect in your actions and rhetoric regarding Mexico over the last ten days.

You ordered to build a wall to keep Mexican and other, mainly Central American immigrants out of your country. The US was founded by immigrants. For nearly 250 years, the US has been an immigrant country. It is totally legitimate for a country to want to regulate immigration, and to control its borders. But there are also market rules at work: A lot of hispanic immigrants not only run away from little opportunities in their home country, but also follow a high demand for cheap labor in the US. (Similarly, the strong demand for illegal drugs such as cocaine is one reason why it is so hard to fight drug trafficking into the US; the gains are so lucrative that people look for ever more inventive entries into the US.) How would the “American way of life” look like if there were no hispanic fruit pickers, housekeepers, gardeners and restaurant workers any more? Are you really thinking about those jobs when you claim to get certain employment back to the US, making America great again?

You talk about imposing a 20 percent tariff on imports from Mexico – despite the fact that Mexico and the US have been operating within the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for more than 20 years now. Most of the economists will tell you that the US and Mexican economies are intertwined to a high degree, and that both, Mexico and the US have been profiting from NAFTA. In both countries, certain industries have also suffered; from globalization, but much more from substituting human labour with technology. Do you have an idea how many US products are sold in Mexican supermarkets, department stores, and Nike boutiques? Oh sorry, right, Nike does not produce in the US, but mainly in South East Asia.

You want to charge a hefty fee for remittances that Mexican workers in the US send home to their families. Has not your country been one of the strongest proponents of free trade and free flow of capital? Democrats and Republicans alike? Are not your banks making part of their huge profits with trading foreign currencies – selling and buying Mexican pesos, Chinese renminbi, or South African rand in a matter of seconds? And now you propose that a Mexican factory worker cannot send home, let’s say 500 US dollars per month, without paying part of it to your government as a special fee, as some form of fine?

Mexico is a sovereign nation. Mexicans are people, more than 120 million. Both countries are neighbors, and as such, have to deal with each other. Would it not be more constructive and effective, if that was done with fairness and with some basic respect? That is what I am demanding of you, Mr. President.

Flag by Nicolas Raymond; Creative Commons

Political failure to address people’s worries

What happened in the US this week should open the eyes of all those who had thought that a person like Donald Trump would never be voted for as president. The Brexit vote in June has shown the world that nothing is certain – so many people thought that the British would not be that “stupid” to vote “Leave”, but that is what a bit more than half of them did in the end. And now – 60 million US voters supported Donald Trump: A person with considerably less political experience than his opponent Hillary Clinton, extremely divisive, racist, sexist and a hothead. Not necessarily character traits that would make a good leader for the world’s most powerful country.

I am not trying to explain why Trump won. The English newspaper “The Guardian” published a piece on the views of six Trump supporters, a really interesting read:

Being fed up with Washington and clientele politics of which they see Hillary Clinton being a fundamental part of, the loss of decently paid manufacturing jobs, Obamacare, government tyranny of rising taxes and the minimum wage, maybe even taking away the right to bear arms – all these were arguments why those people voted against Clinton. He tells you what he thinks, he knows how to make deals, he will revive the American dream – that were reasons why they supported Trump.

He has to do a lot, though, to revive the American dream, that has been in agony for the last 30 years. As the New York Times pointed out: “By 2013, the median American household, after adjusting for inflation, was earning less than it did in 1989.” In the same time, the fortunate have gotten richer, though: “In 1978, the chief executives of America’s big companies took home 30 times the pay of their average workers; in 2013, that multiplier was 296.” The financial crisis of 2008 has hit the poor and the middle class so much harder than the wealthy. If Donald Trump with a net worth of 3.7 billon dollars according to Forbes is the right person to correct this, can be questioned – and remains to be seen.

Governments all over the world should take the frustrations of their citizens seriously. They should explain well their actions, but also the limits of certain politics. It is not an easy task, as people like simple answers, even if they might not be realistic; that tendency seems to get stronger, the more complex our world is getting. Demagogues like Trump abuse these unaddressed worries. The Obama administration’s failure to really deal with the underlying causes of these frustrations has paved the way for a non-politician taking over the White House.