Tale of the gringo strongman: Trump's ill-advised Mexican policies backfire bigly

After Trump's misinformed attacks on Mexico (on migrants and trade), Mexicans wield their muscle

Published May 14, 2017 12:30PM (EDT)

 (Getty Images/pool)
(Getty Images/pool)

Comandante Trump, El Jefe, the gringo strongman!

That's the image our current commander-in-chief seems to be cultivating. He has surrounded himself with generals, he cavalierly threatens war with all "bad hombres," he is drastically bulking up military spending and he imperiously slaps foreign leaders, whole ethnic groups, and entire nations with demeaning tweets and public rants. Posing as Patton on the Potomac, President Donald Trump is out to "Make America feared again."

How is that working out? Look south, to Mexico. Our bellicose president has repeatedly blasted Mexicans again and again as marauding thieves, murderers and rapists. Adding injury to insult, the smirking Trump pledged that he would immediately seal off Mexico by building a 1,800-mile-long, 30-foot high wall — which he described as "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful." But the big man and his big wall are crumbling in the face of reality. Start with the cost: $21.6 billion! The congressional leaders of Trump's own party couldn't choke down a number that big, so the interim budget agreement they passed in April provided exactly zero dollars to start building his wall.

Then there's the reality of illegal entry into our country. First, two-thirds of undocumented people living here enter legally, zipping through customs with a valid visa. Then when their visa expires, they just stay here. No wall will affect this big majority of immigrants; they would literally walk through or fly over Trump's massive monument to futility. Second, these days, most people crossing the Mexican border illegally are not Mexicans, but El Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and other Central Americans, many of which are children fleeing gangs that are routinely kidnapping, raping and murdering kids. Furthermore, the fastest growth in illegal immigration is not from Latinos, but people from Asian nations.

As President Trump is finding out in his ill-fated war with Mexico, the problem that world powers have when they pick fights with seemingly powerless countries is that even small dogs have sharp teeth. His scheme for a wall is collapsing because some two-thirds of the U.S. public simply isn't buying that boondoggle and most people think it is just plain stupid. But Mexicans are the ones blunting Trump's other major attack on them — an attempt to slap a 20 percent border tax on Mexican products shipped into the U.S.

"Nobody knows more about trade than me," the Donald crowed during his presidential run. Narcissistic hyperbole aside, it turns out that Mexican farmers do know a lot more about corn than he does. And they also know that a lot of U.S.-Mexico trade consists of corn.

Until the North American Free Trade Agreement came along, Mexico was a corn exporter. But grain trading giants such as Cargill wrote provisions into NAFTA to rig the rules so they could grab Mexico's corn market. They drove hundreds of thousands of Mexican producers out of business and Mexico — where corn originated — dependent on imports from the U.S.

But now, Mexicans are turning that imported corn into a political weapon against Trump's trade bluster. Rather than buy from the U.S., they're negotiating to import corn from Brazil. And even more significant, they're planning to invest in their own farmers to make Mexico self-sufficient again in this important crop.

Mexico's counteroffensive has caused apoplexy among congressional Republicans from the U.S. Corn Belt. About 75 percent of Iowa's corn, for example, goes to Mexico, and losing that market would devastate Iowa's economy.

So, the "little dog" bit Trump on the rump, and the "big dog" has now backed away from his border-tax idea — having learned that even farmers know more about trade than he does. Far from making America feared, much less "great," Trump's foolish belligerence is making him a global laughingstock. 

By Jim Hightower

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Border Taxes Corn Exports Donald Trump Editor's Picks Illegal Immigration Nafta U.s.-mexico Trade