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1. Escenarios y expectativas ante una nueva presidencia en Estados Unidosl

Foto de Jose M. vía Unsplash 

Take Aways from the US Election

Joy Olson

Former director of WOLA* 




Weeks after the US election, the official presidential transition process has finally begun. On January 21, 2021 Joe Biden will be sworn in as president. As of this writing, President Donald Trump has not conceded, and he may never concede. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has not congratulated President-elect Biden, apparently waiting for the official electoral college vote on December 14th.  But, the infrastructure of US democracy is moving forward irrespective of Trump’s concession or AMLO’s recognition.


This election season has been bizarre for those of us living in the US and must seem surreal to those viewing it from Mexico. Before considering what the transition means for Mexico, here are a few observations about what this election season tells us in the United States.


President Trump and allies have supported numerous lawsuits challenging the election results in closely contested states. These legal challenges have consistently been rejected and state level recounts have not changed the results.  The fact that the transition is happening, in spite of all of this resistance, is a sign that democracy is functioning.  Trump lost the election. His refusing to admit it, doesn’t make it so. It is however highly disturbing that a sitting president is trying to reverse the election and constantly animating his base to protest a non-existent fraud.


It has been fundamentally unsettling to watch President Trump regularly tweeting things that are flagged by Twitter for lack of veracity.  It seems that this Twitter mechanism, put in place to help protect social media from foreign interference, is actually protecting us from our own president. 


The United States is a very divided country. Intellectually, people in the US know this, but somehow it always seems to surprise us. We increasingly live in our ideological bubbles. We live near people who hold similar opinions. We receive our news and “facts” from sources that reinforce what we already believe. For those living in predominately Democratic communities (like Washington, DC where I live), it is difficult to understand how 47% of US voters supported Donald Trump. The reverse could be said by a Republican living in Oklahoma. 


This election needs to challenge Democratic party thinking about identity politics, promoting an agenda to appeal to different identities (racial, ethnic, gender).  Democrats think that minority voters belong to them and that if they turn out minority voters, Democrats win. Latinx voters in S. Texas shocked some when they overwhelmingly voted for Trump. Latinx are not a monolith.


How much of the Democratic agenda can be implemented hinges on the Senate. At present Republicans have 50 of the 100 Senate seats, but a January run-off election in the state of Georgia will determine who controls the Senate. While Democrats have a smaller majority, they still control the House of Representatives.


One thing that can be gleaned by the early appointments made by President-elect Biden is that almost all served in the Obama administration. At face value that is not a bad thing.  It means they have experience. But it also means that the more progressive side of the Democratic party is not represented in key positions.

What should Mexicans expect from the Biden Administration?

Considering that key posts in the Biden Administration are being filled by former Obama officials, we can assume that the US/Mexico relationship will have a tone similar to that of the pre-Trump years.  In other words, less drama, fewer threats and more rhetoric about shared responsibility and cooperation.


Experts believe that there will be a large flow of Central American migrants to the Mexico/US border early in the Biden administration, possibly starting before he takes office. Decisions by the Trump administration to restrict political asylum and others related to Covid-19, have greatly limited the flow of migrants across the border.  Immigration and asylum advocates expect Biden to reverse many of Trump’s anti-immigration policies, but Biden is likely to proceed with caution. There is a fear that lifting restrictions will encourage migration. A migration crisis in his first 100 days could limit the political space for policy changes in other areas. No doubt, there will be continued US interest in Mexico’s southern border as a critical point for controlling north bound migration. US immigration policies will become less restrictive, but don’t expect it to happen fast. And then there is the Wall.  It will still be there but don’t expect it to get much bigger.


While much of the trade relationship will be business as usual, energy and labor will likely be points of contention. Changes in the Mexican energy sector challenge foreign direct investment. Labor interests in both countries want fair pay and protections.


The new administration will likely be more willing to address gun trafficking into Mexico, but the reality is that much of what needs to change requires legislation. If the Democrats control the Senate there is more likelihood of change in US gun law, although it is still a difficult domestic agenda.


While foreign policy is not a priority for the AMLO government, there will be a commonality of interests around economic development and security in Central America.  Biden was Obama’s point person on Central America. He knows the region well and will likely return to an approach that highlights economic development. This is something that the two countries could work on together.


One hurdle for the Mexican government is the perception that AMLO not only acquiesced to Trump’s bully tactics, but that the two made common cause. This was affirmed by AMLO’s refusal to recognize Biden in the weeks after the election, even after the winner was firmly established and the transition official began.  There is likely to be an underlying resentment/distrust on the part of US officials.


Counterdrug cooperation is a priority for every US government. This will continue but the recent arrest of General Salvador Cienfuegos, and his subsequent return to Mexico, expose tensions within the military and counterdrug relationship. It also demonstrates the weight of military and counter drug issues in bilateral relations.


Climate change will be on Biden’s agenda. There will be opportunities for collaboration here, but it is not clear how Mexico will respond. Climate initiatives that are seen as infringing upon Mexican sovereignty are doubtful. 


If the last four years of the Trump Administration have taught us anything, it is that the Mexico/US relationship can survive a lot! While there are political impediments to progress on critical issues, civil society in both countries will be needed to ensure forward movement. Here’s to hoping for more cooperation in the years ahead! 

*The author is currently working as a consultant to NGOs and non-profits on advocacy strategy

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