Trump’s treatment of Mexico: Repeating the mistakes of the past?

About five years ago, a friend from Mexico who studies how marketing experts manipulate consumer habits put on a slideshow made up of symbols, and then asked me what word popped into my head with each image.

There was one symbol — which was actually a popular brand name — that conjured up the word “success.” For Mexicans in particular, this brand was gold-plated and generated positive feelings of accomplishment, power, and respect.

The brand name? “Trump.”

For our neighbors south of the border, those days are gone. The last time U.S.-Mexico relations were this bad, U.S. troops were marching south.

The notorious 19th century invasion and land grab that history records as the U.S.-Mexican War resulted in Mexico losing nearly half its territory. One memorable story involves the Niños Héroes, six teenaged military cadets who fought bravely to their deaths instead of surrendering to U.S. troops during the Battle of Chapultepec Castle. One cadet wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leapt to his death. The war ended when the neighboring countries exchanged ratifications of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.

Now, seven decades later in 2018, President Trump seems to be spoiling for a rematch.

It is as if Trump has some sort of deep psychological hang-up with our Southern neighbor. He doesn’t belong in the White House. He belongs on a couch.

Those suffering the brunt of his psychosis include Mexicans in Mexico, Mexican migrants in the United States, and Mexican-Americans who have lived here for generations.

I have friends in all three tribes.

Consider the trauma of Mexican-Americans. You might think that most of these folks wouldn’t have much of a problem with Trump’s attacks on Mexico and Mexicans because they are often far removed — by time, distance, assimilation — from the lives of their Mexican ancestors.

After all, Mexico betrayed our parents and grandparents. If Mother Mexico had provided sufficient opportunity for its children, they wouldn’t have had to run away from home and start families of their own north of the border. Mexican-Americans have the right to hold a grudge against the homeland.

Yet many Mexican-Americans are offended by Trump’s anti-Mexico tantrums. They tell me that, when he talks in a demeaning way about Mexican immigrants, they feel as if he could be talking about their own parents and grandparents.

First, they were told — by the most anti-Mexican president since Dwight Eisenhower, who loaded Mexicans onto railroad cars during Operation Wetback in 1954 — that Americans need a “big beautiful wall” on the border to keep out Mexicans because they’re criminals and rapists, that they and their ancestors were far from “the best” that Mexico has to offer, and that the system of admitting legal immigrants to the U.S. must be revamped so that future arrivals come with more education and skills.

Whether the issue is drugs, trade, immigration or national security, Trump never passes up a chance to insult Mexico.

Now he has resorted to blackmail. Issues that have nothing to do with one another get mixed together. If Mexico wants the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) t continue, the president warns, it must stop the flow of drugs and immigrants into the United States.

You would think that someone who never tires of telling people how he is “really smart” would grasp the law of supply and demand. Mexico supplies what the United States demands.

Trump’s tantrums are no way to treat a reliable friend and trusted ally. Mexico isn’t just the United States’ No. 2 trading partner after Canada. It’s also a key ally in the war on terror, regularly passing along vital information that helps U.S. authorities thwart attacks and keep the homeland safe.

Recently, Donald Trump tweeted about a “caravan” of migrants coming from Central America through Mexico and headed toward the United States. On April 3, Trump warned Mexican officials — in a tone usually reserved for parents disciplining teenagers — that the caravan “…had better be stopped before it gets there.” Two days later, once the caravan had splintered, Trump tweeted: “The Caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at our Border…”

The president is the one making a scene — and, in the process, destroying one of our most valuable relationships.

A president’s first responsibility isn’t to chart a course for the future but to not repeat the mistakes of the past. The escalation of insults, tensions, and provocations that led to the U.S.-Mexican War was a dark and dead-end road. Americans should not travel it again.

Ruben Navarrette, a contributing editor to Angelus News, is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a Daily Beast columnist, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”