The American news media has not covered the damage this president is doing to our reputation abroad in depth. This will remain after Donald Trump leaves office. Why? This is likely for two reasons. We live within a deep American bubble. Meaning news organizations do not have many reporters abroad. This was a decision made decades ago, and it prevents us from understanding other cultures. Then there is the other aspect. This will run smack into the wall of American exceptionalism. The myths we tell ourselves are important, and deep. They are culture walls that prevent us from looking deeper inwards.
However, those of us who do travel outside the bubble understand this. There is nothing stranger than riding in a taxi in Mexico City with the radio blaring. It was tuned to the local news station. The local news host was detailing the witch hunt on the American media to their audience. He spoke of the constant attacks of the American president on the media over Twitter. He also mentioned the series of editorials written by papers across the United States in defense of the profession. THe host told the audience that it him of the long decades when the office of the Mexican presidency set the news agenda. He told the audience of the time when the Mexican press was not free.
Granted, being a reporter in Mexico is one of the most dangerous jobs you could ever do globally. The Mexican media is still getting its feet wet in investigative journalism. And many reporters die every year, but not because of the government. They do becuase of the cartels. For some reason the cartels do not like their business exposed by meddling reporters.
It was as if I were looking though the looking glass to hear attacks on the American media described on Milenio Radio, the same way CNN describes those attacks abroad. The terms the host used were familiar to my youth. He implied that the offensive on our press were as bad as those on the Mexican press during the Mexican dirty war of the sixties and seventies. It is not that the term dirty war has entered the Mexican lexicon. It has not. But ’68 did, as well as the student massacre at Tlatelolco. That was the highly controlled press that the host was referring to.
I remember the seventies in Mexico City well. It was not just horribly expensive to call long distance. (And this was the case in the United States as well.) My dad always told us, and we were young children, to watch what we said on the phone. It was common knowledge that when you called abroad, your phone call was not private. Many calls inside Mexico were hardly private as well. If you wanted to be critical of the government, you did it behind the privacy of known walls and in person. You assumed that there were ears listening in if you went out to Samborns, or VIPS for coffee or dinner.
That is what the host spoke off when he told the audience that things in the United States are quickly becoming like they once were in Mexico to his audience. The host also grew up in those same years I did. He did not need to hit his audience over the head with it, since Mexicans have not forgotten that painful history.
Mexico ’68, and her ghosts, were very present after the 43 students were killed in the state of Guerrerro a few years back. That era is the frame of reference Mexicans have for the totalitarian attacks of the American president on the American media. I am sure Donald Trump would love to have the kind of control Luis Echeverria Alvarez, or Gustavo Diaz Ordaz had over the Mexican press. It was total. Nothing negative was printed, and when the student movement started, editors had to tell reporters to watch what they saw, and what they wrote. I talked to medics when I was young, who rushed to the scene and were shot at by military, for evacuating the wounded.
The worst of that era did not emerge for thirty years, but the objective of silencing the press did not work. Why? Civil society chose sides and memory, and that generation became one of transition towards a form of democracy. It is not our democracy, but it is a democracy.
However, to hear the American president compared to some of the worst examples of totalitarian rule in Mexico speaks as to the damage he has wrought to our reputation. It is deep.
There is also a fact that cannot escape anyone straying from the tourist traps, which I do every time I travel to Mexico City. Most people do not have a good view of the American president, and at this point of the United States. Just five percent have any confidence on the American president.
This is a very educated guess. That five percent is likely part of the oligarchy, and the far right. There are more Mexicans going home than coming to the United States. This trend started in 2008, but continues to deepen. And as attacks on Mexicans continue, I suspect it will accelerate.
When I was growing up, most of us did not pay attention to Watergate. Yes, it was mildly covered in the news, but in Mexico it was not important. What Trump is doing is part of the daily routine. Part of it, is the North American Free Trade Agreement, which incidentally, some Mexicans now advocate should only be with Canada. And of course, there is that wall, that Mexico will never pay for.
This is important though. Trump and his games are not the mainstay of Mexican politics. In fact, Trumpism was not the main point of discussion during the presidential campaign. However, I expect Antonio Lopez Obrador to be less deferential to Trump. Partly, he is part of the old PRI, never mind he ran, and won, on the left of the PRI with MORENA. That PRI where he learned the trade of politics was far more nationalist, at least openly. The two presidents Mexican presidents I cited in this piece worked for the CIA, and were cold warriors. Their goal was to stamp communism from Mexico. However, they kept all those operations in the dark, with the help of a compliant press. All this is now emerging, and most Mexicans are hardly surprised by those revelations.
August 20, 2018
Edited to reflect the edited copy, that for some reason was not in my home computer.