The Trump Effect — How Donald Trump Caused a Rise in Mexican Nationalism

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” said Donald Trump as he kicked-off his presidential campaign in June of 2016 under his beloved tower of gold, the now-infamous Trump Tower. In a country riddled with corruption, social injustice, and widespread violence, moments of Mexican pride are not a common sight. However, Trump’s comments have had an unprecedented effect on the pride, accountability, and social discussions of Mexicans.

Baffled at his decision to begin his presidential campaign expressing himself through such inflammatory and clearly populist commentary, politically-informed Mexicans brushed off Donald Trump’s presidential prospects. The argument went, albeit quite informally, our neighboring country, which we so often look to imitate, could not possibly elect a demagogue.

Growing up in a highly privileged household, as a child I was taught to look up to the United States as an example to follow. When I was born, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was already well underway and although I lived in one of Mexico’s biggest, most populous and historical cities, I watched Cartoon Network growing up, wore Levi’s, dined at Chili’s, and studied at the American Institute of Monterrey. Everyone I knew got their groceries at HEB, and traveled to McAllen, Texas — a three-hour drive to go shopping. All things considered, the pieces were set for a national textbook case of inferiority complex. For centuries, we’ve looked at our northern neighbors as an example to imitate. For instance, it is no secret the Constitution of Mexico was inspired by the United States Constitution, and they are so similar the former could almost be considered plagiarism. This behavior has persisted through the years, and even today our public policy can bear an eerie resemblance to what happens north. This is unsurprising, considering in some regions of the country, particularly in the northern states, everyday conversations are influenced by American media just as much as the Mexican media. This has created a national sentiment that although sometimes worked in our favor, it has also prevented Mexico from realizing its full potential.

Now, offended at the fact that a foreigner was humiliating our country before the international community, Trump’s comments incited a new wave of Mexican nationalism unlike I had ever seen before in my country. Nobody really knew who Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or Marco Rubio were. All most knew, and cared to know, was that there was a man who used Mexico as the scapegoat for most problems in America, and we could not get enough of it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we let Trump’s aggressive rhetoric get under our skin by fanatically sharing and magnifying every single one of his remarks, as well as ridiculing him everywhere we could. In a matter of weeks, Donald Trump became a household name in the country. In retaliation to his remarks, many forwarded stirring nationalist messages to their group chats or set their profile picture to the Mexican flag, thinking they had fulfilled their civic duties by making the strenuous effort of pressing a touchscreen from the comfort of a couch. Others, in an attempt to make a more significative impact, pledged to stop consuming American products and shop locally as an act of solidarity, prompting others to do the same.

For the first time in my 18 years of living here, I witnessed sincere patriotism. Conversations evolved from criticizing Donald Trump to coming up with ways to prove him wrong, to reaffirm our own self worth. People began speaking of principle, and the importance of having a clear national identity. In people of all ages and backgrounds, there was a surge in intellectual curiosity, ethical standards, and most importantly, a willingness to improve our situation.

After months of a stunning race that will surely go down in the history books, election night arrived. Unlike anywhere else in the world, anxious Mexicans were on their heels in front of the television, watching as the electoral ballot count came in because despite predictions of a landslide victory by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump was winning states most analysts did not expect him to win. After enduring six months of a grueling presidential campaign which relentlessly antagonized the Mexican people, most expected the Trump parade to die quickly and definitively. When it was clear it was going to be a long night, many went to bed worried, hoping their fears would be assuaged when they read the morning paper.

To their disappointing surprise, the underdog had won. Donald J. Trump would be the next President of the United States, and was to be sworn into office on January 20. Only beginning to embrace reality, alarmed northern Mexicans realized much of their fate was in the hands a sharp-tongued man whose campaign promises threatened to cut the region’s lifeline, as the northern states of Mexico thrive under NAFTA.

Evidently, we are living in a time where we desperately need to regain control of our economy, our culture, and our identity. This calls for us to be attentive and responsible citizens and consumers, as there has never been a better time for the country to rally behind a common goal. With the rise of Donald Trump, Mexico’s dependency on the United States has been clearly threatened. These past few months have been a splash of ice-cold water for the Mexican people, as only now do we come to realize the public has been dormant for years.

Our public education system is embarrassing, corruption is so common in all positions of public service it is almost acceptable, using a highway means putting your life in danger, and the country has lost all sense of national identity. Although it is hard to admit, this is all our faults; many children are not proud to call themselves Mexican. In one way or another, every citizen has directly contributed to the state in which we find ourselves today. Not doing anything is a choice in and of itself.

With this in mind, we must accept merely complaining is not enough — it has never been. In the history of humankind, no hurdle has ever been overcome by everyone complaining about it. The problem is, the only ones with the capacity, education, influence and opportunity to do something about it are also the ones who live too comfortably to seek change. For example, students from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México protest regularly, but despite them having both the capacity and education to carry out change, they are not given the opportunity and lack the influence to actually enforce what they seek. Furthermore, it is this same group of people, the ones perfectly positioned to effect change, that will complain about corruption but readily welcome the governor’s family into their homes — in effect normalizing corruption. This is not to say someone’s family should be punished for their individual actions, but in a place where the law does not punish corruption, it is up to society to make corruption unacceptable, unthinkable to the point no one would dare even try.

The rise of Donald Trump forced us to proclaim our country was not as he put it, which in turn prompted many to think of ways we, as a society, have failed to make our country better. Accepting our mistakes, and acknowledging how we could have done better makes change seem enticing, easy even. However, despite change being relatively straightforward, it is far from easy. Change is not easy because humans are inherently bad at adjusting their own behavior, which means in order to achieve change we must actively look to curve the behavior of those around us. When all of society begins to act with integrity, we will see increased transparency in government. When all of society refuses to normalize corruption, we will see the law begin to prosecute corrupt politicians. After all, we must remember the government is only a reflection of the people it governs.