Washington, DC—At a recent National Press Club newsmaker luncheon, former Mexican President Vicente Fox called attention to a growing threat to democracy and human progress: nationalism. Fox referred to this trend as a “U-turn” away from globalization and back to “the old times of the nation-state” by citing 2016 populist movements in Catalonia, Great Britain, and the United States as examples. Events like Brexit and President Trump’s election, explained Fox, incited a global transition away from the world’s “very best peak of progress” that was reached in 2013—a year of globalization and technological advancement. Ultimately, Fox asserted with his signature candor that prioritizing the nation-state over globalization is a mistake.
During his speech, Fox highlighted that North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) discussions have adopted xenophobic aspects, but not to the fault of Mexicans. Fox argued that Mexico has fulfilled its end of NAFTA and three of its main purposes: preventing drugs from reaching the United States, bringing competitiveness to the North American region, and developing the Mexican economy through job creation.
“We’re doing the job; NAFTA is working,” Fox commented, calling for more patience.
While he argued that Mexico has progressed in combating drugs and lowering the income ratio between the U.S. and Mexico from 10:1 to 5:1 in 25 years, Fox conceded that NAFTA is outdated as it preceded the internet, modern technology, and current globalization challenges. Rather than revising NAFTA to face modern challenges as neighbors, Fox asserted that the three involved nations are pitted against each other as the U.S. builds isolationist walls. He prescribed increased dialogue and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) example as ways to improve NAFTA rather than adopting President Trump’s zero-sum outlook.
When discussing the upcoming Mexican election, Fox warned against “populism, demagoguery, and false prophets.” This was in reference to front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) who Fox argued “doesn’t have [anything] to offer to Mexico or to Mexicans.”
Fox simulated Obrador to the “wild horse” President Trump, stating that both men incorrectly “think they can isolate themselves…and be great again.” Such nationalistic tendencies would rewind global progress to what Fox stipulated as “what we saw at the beginning of last century.”
Following Dani Rodrick, a professor of international political economy at Harvard, democracy, international economic integration, and national sovereignty are “mutually incompatible.” This means that countries can simultaneously possess only two of the three aforementioned principles in their entirety. Thus, it is up to a nation to choose which of the two “trilemma” options they wish to pursue and which to forgo—either benefits of deep economic integration, control over domestic objectives, or maintenance of democracy. More and more nations have prioritized national sovereignty and democracy while sacrificing globalization. But leadership changes can alter nations’ “trilemma” priorities.
Fox’s arguments allude to his belief that upcoming elections in Mexico and the United States are the key to combating nationalism and reestablishing globalization. Specifically, he stipulated that if Mexicans elect Meade or Anaya, Mexico will maintain principles of “responsible governments, respect for freedom, respect for democracy, [and] respect for human rights.” Fox espoused that if the Democratic Party controlled Congress in the U.S., it could serve as “bridles of a wild horse to be controlled” by creating more checks and balances to the Trump administration. Whether or not this will occur or be beneficial to both nations will be decided in July and November in the Mexican and American elections.
But can Fox’s lambasting and advice turn the tide of such a dominant global trend of nationalism? Do Fox’s speeches inspire meaningful change or merely rile the “wild horse” and contribute further to global divisions? If the world is to restore globalization, honest dialogue, concerted diplomacy, and earnest problem-solving must ensue both within and between nations.