It’s 2017 and you’re out on the street asking passersby what they remember of Donald Trump’s campaign talking points. He’s said some very loud things — too many to enumerate. You know that. You’re expecting a rainbow of answers, a portrait of a wealthy egomaniac on his last attention bender. But you’ll probably only get one answer. There’s only one promise of his that’s built to last: We’ll build a wall on the Mexican border and Mexico will pay for it. It’s the only one he’s been consistent about, the only true constant of this campaign. Mexico bad; America good.
But now pundits say he’s “softening his stance.” He’s pivoting for the general election, they say, so suburban Republicans who don’t get drunk and throw bricks at the old steel mill can feel comfortable voting for him. But how in the hell do you soften such a fundamentally anti-Mexico presidential campaign? What does that even look like? To find out, and to ignore the fog of beltway bullshit, I had to go directly to the source: Donald Trump’s own words at a conference with Mexico’s president, Peña Nieto.
Trump’s words were not easy to find. All I could find was a bunch of people talking about his words, about how they were an attempt to get soft. But after thousands of miles of hard driving and dozens of burners and countless midnight calls on pay phones and no less than seven discreet thefts of clean license plates in the parking lots of low-key family restaurants, I was able to obtain them.
It almost didn’t happen. I got lucky.
Walking through a train yard outside Nogales, Arizona, I found a one-armed man who gave them to me free of charge, rolled up, written on butcher paper, stashed in a blood-smeared mezcal bottle. I couldn’t thank him because he wouldn’t stop yelling about the ghosts that stalk the shoulders of Highway 19 outside Sahuarita, but it was a gracious deed in a pitiless world all the same.
Let’s scrutinize Trump’s actual speech in Mexico City on August 31, 2016, and see if his outrageously authoritarian stance on Mexico has truly softened.
OK, OK, hey! I love Mexico, and furthermore, Mexicans! Let me tell you a story about that wall you’re going to build. It starts with the Jesuits. When the Jesuits came to Mexico, they didn’t really come to preach the gospel. They came to dig mines. Silver. Gold. By 1600, this process was illegal by royal decree, so the Jesuits moved in secret. In 1603, they got lucky when they discovered Tayopa. Seventeen mines of unimaginable wealth, huge wealth. They built a town around it, Guadalupe de Tayopa. Somewhere in Sonora, by the Yaqui River. A hundred years later, the town was gone, an uprising probably. By 1767, the Jesuits were gone. But the money wasn’t gone, was it, Mexico? Money wasn’t gone. It’s still there. You know it’s still there.
Find it for me. Find Guadalupe de Tayopa. Go to Sonora and turn it upside down. Find me the silver and I will build my wall and leave you alone. It was a big town once. It must have had a church. Look for a stone church in Sonora, an old church, crumbling, fading into the burning ground, and somewhere you will find the mines. Find my treasure, Mexico. Find it before the coward Tim Kaine finds it for the Jesuits. And please remember this, Mexico: Cowards do not deserve treasure. Cowards deserve merciless [PASSAGE TOO BLOOD-SMEARED TO TRANSCRIBE]. Vaya con Dios.
I was surprised too.
The pundits were right.
It is softer. The language here is unusually controlled for Mr. Trump. But the pundits didn’t get the whole picture. While he makes countless verbal compromises, he doesn’t make a single ideological compromise. The cumulative weight of his words retains its authoritarian heft. It just takes a little longer to notice.
I shouldn’t have to tell you why. It’s just not ethical to look for the Jesuit treasure. That treasure belongs to Mexico, not Trump. He has no claim to it. And it’s not ethical to put the country to work finding it without any chance of recompense. To exercise this much arbitrary control over a foreign country as a president, let alone a candidate with no experience in elected office, is almost dictatorial.
But let’s forget about ethics for a second. Let’s pretend his idea is perfectly ethical. Even if that were the case, Trump doesn’t actually have a plan for finding the lost mines of Guadalupe de Tayopa. Sonora is huge and not conducive to such a Herculean civic undertaking, and Trump will never be a vaquero, no matter how hard he tries.
Sonora is a desert of remarkable cruelty. It’s blindingly hot, sparsely populated, scant on resources, almost devoid of water. The odds he’ll ever find the Jesuit treasure in that punishing wilderness are extremely low, and it is shockingly egotistical to think he can just ride into Sonora and turn over a few old bricks and find it. This is magical thinking of the order of believing in the Easter Bunny. The treasure has been lost for centuries for a reason.
Consider James Kirker, the Irish pirate and bounty hunter who knew Sonora like the back of his hand and had no concept of fear and found what may have been the ruins of Tayopa in 1842. He found the church, the smelting furnace, the ancient desolate mine shafts. You think he wouldn’t be thorough, after getting that far? You think he’d miss the treasure if it was there? Trump may be chasing after something that doesn’t even exist anymore.
And consider Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point. An engineer for a mining company in Ocampo in 1909, he knew miners in Sonora who were aware of Tayopa’s location. He would have found the treasure if it was there. He knew to stand at the top of Cerro de la Campana near the Villa de la Concepción and watch as the sun set directly on Tayopa. You think he really abandoned his chance just because of the Mexican Revolution? No one abandons a chance like that.
For Donald Trump to believe otherwise, to believe he can follow in the shoes of Kirker and Flipper, to believe the gold is even there anymore, is completely unbecoming of a serious candidate for president.
Now, do I regret dangling ex-cons off highway overpasses to find the transcript of Trump’s speech? Of course I do. That was a serious breach of journalistic ethics, and you have to take extremely shallow breaths when you break a rib.
But I don’t regret what that transcript taught me. It taught me that Donald Trump has no credible foreign policy, and no ability whatsoever to relate to the real struggles of the Mexican people. His lack of moral integrity is so boundless, his concept of empathy so broken, that merely reading his speeches is spiritually exhausting. It’s all so desperately sad, it makes me want to give up on American politics entirely, buy a little Airstream trailer, a reliable pickup truck, a bulldozer, a generator, some reliable mining lamps, and move to the banks of the Yaqui River.