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Juan Villoro: Donald Trump, Illusion of Convenience

The acclaimed Mexican writer explains why Donald Trump is a welcome distraction for the government of Mexico.

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Image by S. Jordan Palmer

By Juan Villoro
Translated from the Spanish by Francisco Cantú

There now remains no doubt that Donald Trump will be named the Republican Presidential nominee. During the protracted campaign, his opinions have proven to be as disconcerting and unshakable as his haircut. The New York magnate seemingly knows no other strategy than to abide by his own capricious nature. Strangely, his supporters have come to regard his indulgence of the arbitrary as a sign of coherence. In sharp contrast with the traditionalist elite of the Republican Party, Trump is the outsider who says what he wishes.

The threat posed by Trump must be taken seriously. It’s too late to dismiss him as a buffoon who livens up televised debates: despite the absurdity of his positions, his chances of enacting them continue to grow.

Trump has attacked his rivals with all the decorum of a Wild West gunfighter, currying favor among those who consider John Wayne the embodiment of sincere and fervent humanism. It’s of little comfort to consider that there are worse alternatives, that the eccentric who crowns his buildings (and his face) with a golden crest might somehow be preferable to Ted Cruz, a man inclined to implement a more institutional brand of fascism. There is no consolation or escape: Trump is alarmingly real.

For citizens of Mexico, it is useful to examine the material repercussions of the threat posed by the Donald.

For citizens of Mexico, it is useful to examine the material repercussions of the threat posed by the Donald. The biggest surprise is that the candidate we so rabidly hate, the same man who insists that we will build a wall to imprison ourselves within our own country, represents a much-needed breath of fresh air for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Unable to confront the principal challenges of his tenure, such as solving the mass kidnapping of forty-three students from Ayotzinapa, the country’s rampant violence, the continued murder and persecution of journalists, and his own “white mansion” scandal, Peña Nieto has squandered the fifteen minutes of fame he secured after the successful passage of his “Pact for Mexico” reforms, many of which are subject to criticism but nevertheless representative of a tactical triumph.

After spending the first half of his presidency making vague promises, Peña Nieto seems poised to spend the second withholding the specifics. His presidency’s motto, to “move Mexico,” is just one more metaphor in a nation of mystifications.

Several weeks ago, the team in charge of overseeing the fallout from the case of Ayotzinapa’s missing students, Mexico’s Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, issued its second report under a needless cloud of controversy. This team was never contracted to conduct a true investigation, nor was it ever given the necessary means to do so—its task was to offer an impartial analysis of the facts provided by the Mexican government. Its first report shed unexpected light on the disappearances and demonstrated that the “historical truth” put forth by Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam—maintaining that the bodies of the forty-three students had been incinerated in a municipal dump—was untenable. Great expectations were created for the second report, but there was no way for the team to close the loop around those responsible for the crime. From the very start, leads fragmented, impeding the expert’s ability to establish a unified account, and crucial players such as the military failed to furnish sufficient information.

Once more, official discourse has offered up an illusion of reality in place of reality itself.

Instead of deepening their analysis, the government has preferred to diffuse it. Once more, official discourse has offered up an illusion of reality in place of reality itself. When the team appointed by the government failed to confirm the administration’s “historical truth,” the experts were subjected to an intense campaign to discredit them. Against their recommendation, a new survey was performed in the Cocula municipal dump, leading only to more confusion. Among the survey’s “findings” was that perhaps only seventeen bodies had been burned in the dump. If so, what of the remaining students? Mexico’s Attorney General offers us a delusional equation: forty-three minus seventeen equals zero.

The State’s battle of illusion is being waged on many fronts. In an unprecedented act, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, asked for forgiveness in front of twenty-five thousand soldiers for the torture committed by members of the Mexican military more than a year ago in the town of Ajuchitlán del Progreso. This speech does great honor to Cienfuegos and should be carefully assessed: the General acted with integrity in a country where the admission of wrongdoing is worse than the commission of the act itself. On the other hand, perhaps this commendable gesture is destined to imply that Mexico’s armed forces have fulfilled their moral duty and needn’t accept any additional blame.

Fear has no regard for details: when Godzilla demolishes a building, it matters little if the tenants owe rent.

In an environment where illusion determines reality, Trump appears to be the piñata we all wish to break apart. But in the face of such a mirage, we are all poised to become victims.

At the same moment that the government of Peña Nieto has become unable to defend itself, a distractionary threat has emerged. To speak of Trump focuses our national anxiety on him alone. Fear has no regard for details: when Godzilla demolishes a building, it matters little if the tenants owe rent.

Behind so many illusions lies the reality. Indeed, the United States under Trump would be disastrous. But what is even more disastrous is Mexico under Peña Nieto.

Originally published as “Trump como alivio” in Reforma, 29 April 2016

© Juan Villoro, Agencia Reforma

Juan Villoro is a Mexican journalist and an award-winning novelist, essayist, short story writer, playwright, and children’s book author. He writes a weekly column for the Mexico City newspaper Reforma and his work has appeared in English translation in BOMB Magazine, n+1, English PEN, and Words Without Borders. He has served as a visiting professor at Princeton, Yale, and Boston University. In 2004, he received the prestigious Herralde Prize for his novel El Testigo. An English-language translation of his short story collection The Guilty is available from George Braziller, and a collection of his essays on soccer, God is Round, was recently published by Simon & Schuster.

Francisco Cantú is a translator and nonfiction author. A frequent contributor to Guernica Daily, his writing also appears in Ploughshares and Orion and is forthcoming in Best American Essays 2016. He is a contributing editor at Public Books.

S. Jordan Palmer was born and raised in Prescott, Arizona. Coming from a small mountain town, there was ample time to spend alone drawing, reading, and thinking of crazy shit. This pastime quickly became a passion, and is now more than that. A regular studio practice is the only thing keeping him out of trouble.

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