The course of American-Mexican relations never has run particularly smooth. There was the Mexican-American war in the mid-19th century, of course, and there’s always the inherent tension with one big, rich country to the north sharing a lengthy border with a poor, perennially corrupt and struggling nation to the south. “Poor Mexico,” goes one ancient lament south of the border, “so far from God, so close to the United States.”
Donald Trump courted controversy by charging in his presidential run in the summer of 2015 that the Mexican government was sending its “undesirables” across that border into the United States. Mexico has exported its poverty problem to the United States for at least a generation. It’s undeniably true that drugs manufactured or shipped through Mexico have been making their way into American communities at an alarming clip. But saying so isn’t always considered neighborly.
Nevertheless, despite the president’s occasional incendiary rhetoric, relations between Mexico and the United States have remained relatively placid for the past year. That might be because Mr. Trump has not yet built his wall along the border, nor has the United States withdrawn from NAFTA, both subject to change. Or it might be that Mr. Trump has made it clear that the United States is no longer a sanctuary for border-crossers. That, too, is subject to change.
Next year, however, things look a bit more dicey. It appears increasingly likely that an anti-American leftist will ascend to the Mexican presidency next summer. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has run for the presidency twice, and came dangerously close to making it both times. No fan of the democratic process, after losing in 2006 Mr. Lopez Obrador put on an endless series of mass protests in Mexico City. Public-opinion polls now show him well ahead of his rivals for the election next July 1. The ruling party suffers from a succession of corruption scandals and an ever more violent drug war.
Mr. Lopez Obrador was extracted from the mold of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Nicolas Maduro, a demagogue with a gift of incendiary rhetoric, mobilizing his supporters in the streets, and itching to spend government money like a drunken sailor (or a sober Democratic politician). He has made no secret of his scorn for the United States and President Trump.
Mr. Lopez Obrador would be a disaster for Mexico. His election would be a disaster for north of the border as well. A collapsing Mexican economy — guaranteed if he implements anything like the Castro/Chavez economic fantasy he admires — would send new millions of Mexicans fleeing across the border into the United States. He has floated the idea of a mass amnesty for drug gangsters. This would liberate some very horrible people, and ensure that drug gangs would operate with impunity, and more violence and more drugs surging across the Rio Grande.
There’s a lot at stake for the United States, because what happens in Mexico, alas, doesn’t stay in Mexico.