Five days into Donald Trump’s presidency, he signed an executive order to mandate the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. He then gave an interview to ABC News saying Mexico would be paying for it. A day later, he tweeted that if Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was unwilling to do so, then the two leaders should not be meeting, as scheduled, on January 31st. Peña Nieto announced shortly thereafter that he was canceling the meeting, breaking with the longstanding tradition that incoming U.S. presidents meet with their counterparts from Mexico and Canada soon after assuming office.
Before President Trump finishes his first week in office, before even having a secretary of state in place, he has already managed to alienate a friendly neighbor, America’s third-largest trading partner and close ally. All this over an outrageous campaign promise.
Trump now faces a southern neighbor largely united in its anti-U.S. sentiment. This sentiment is not primarily moved by his intention to renegotiate NAFTA; or his racist, anti-Mexican rhetoric; or even by the idea of the wall itself, which anyone who has actually been to the U.S.-Mexico border knows is patently absurd given the topography along the 2,000-odd mile length of the border—not to mention the large swathes of protected or privately owned land there. The sentiment, which led every single political leader in Mexico to demand that President Peña Nieto cancel his trip to Washington, comes from the indignity of the notion that Mexico will somehow pay for the wall. The Trump administration is basing its entire approach to the bilateral relationship with Mexico on a ludicrous and arrogant proposition: that it can make another sovereign nation foot the bill for its own xenophobic construction project.