When the male ego clouds the judgment of political leaders

Crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S., about a week ago, we found each country facing crises caused in large part by the male bravado and arrogance of its leader.

When Donald Trump, in 2015, announced what at the time seemed like a hopeless bid for the presidency, he vowed to build a concrete wall hundreds of miles long to stem a supposed wave of Mexican rapists and assorted criminals from sneaking into the U.S. through its southern border and, moreover, make Mexico pay for this pharaonic undertaking.

From there, Trump’s anti-immigration stance and promise to build the Wall became a cornerstone of his campaign and presidency—one that neither his hard-core supporters nor his cheerleaders at Fox News will let him forget—even though it was an absurd solution to a non-existent crisis.

Here comes Da’ Man. (NYT)

So now the country is mired in a real crisis that has shut down significant parts of the federal government, leaving hundreds of thousands of civil servants without a paycheck, and citizens without essential government services.

And all because Trump would not, could not, quietly let his fantasy Wall fade into oblivion.

As House Speak Nancy Pelosi and New York Times columnist have noted, the Wall has become a symbol of Trump’s manhood, something no one should dare question or impugn.

“…[I]t’s not really a wall that Trump is after, if indeed it ever was,” Bruni wrote in a recent column. “It’s a victory for victory’s sake. It’s a show of his might. It’s proof of his potency.”

In Mexico we have a similar show of bluster by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who assumed power just six weeks ago, though fortunately for us who live there, he is not nearly as vile or buffoonish as Trump. In fact, López Obrador seems to be almost ostentatiously modest, in dress and style, compared to the gilded excess of Trump and his gang.  

But AMLO, as he is popularly called, pinned his campaign on fighting corruption with bold, decisive strokes, and so he began by fighting it at Pemex, the government-owned behemoth that owns and controls oil production in Mexico. 

At the heart of the problem is the theft of fuel, about three billion dollars worth annually, by drug cartels, and enterprising individuals both outside and inside Pemex. 

(For a vivid depiction of the cartel-Pemex corruption axis, I refer you to an article in Rolling Stone cited by Jennifer Rose, one of this blog’s readers: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/drug-war-mexico-gas-oil-cartel-717563/)

AMLO’s initial shot, dramatic but ill-conceived, almost quixotic, was to divert some gasoline deliveries from the pipelines to trucks and train tanker cars. But lack of enough alternate delivery capacity has led to widespread gasoline shortages, and large numbers of stations throughout ten states closed.  

For AMLO or anyone in Mexico to pretend they can root corruption is as far-fetched as someone promising to repeal the laws of gravity in a few quick steps. It’s a perennial promise made by every incoming president that perhaps López Obrador should have approached with humility and consultation.

At this juncture, both men seem caught in their own bluster, unlikely to back off and admit they made a mistake that needs reconsideration. 

So tomorrow we’re going to Home Depot in San Antonio to pick up a second plastic gas can to bring with us on the trip back to Mexico on Thursday, just in case. 

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