Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto defended his comparison of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, arguing that the populist fervor the presumptive GOP nominee has stoked could lead to dangerous things.
In March, Peña Nieto told the Mexican newspaper Excélsior that “there have been episodes in human history, unfortunately, where these expressions of strident rhetoric have led to very ominous situations.”
“That’s how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in: they took advantage of a situation, a problem perhaps, which humanity was going through at the time, after an economic crisis,” he said.
At today’s summit with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, a reporter asked if the Mexican president stood by that assessment — and if he worried about whether there would be a Trump wall on the border by this time next year. (Peña Nieto said in the March interview there’s “no scenario” under which Mexico would pay for such a wall.)
Peña Nieto stressed that the Mexican government “will respect fully the domestic electoral process in the United States.”
“We are facing a global reality…an interconnected world with its own challenges,” he said. “What I have said is that in the world we’re living, in different places we have political leaders, political stakeholders that use demagoguery and have the populistic slogans that want to eliminate and destroy what has been built, what has taken decades to build, to go back to problems of the past.”
“And yes, it is true, all the benefits have not reached society as a whole. That is true. But those leaderships, those political actors by using populism and demagoguery, they choose the easiest way to solve the challenges of today’s world. And things are not that simplistic.”
The Mexican leader added that it’s “complex and it is difficult to lead a country,” but being interconnected is a given.
“Never before have our countries had a high life expectancy as we have today. Never before have we had the opportunity to have access to the knowledge of the world as fast and as easy as we do today. Never before, we’re in such a level of connection between society and the possibility of having access to any product from any corner of the world as we do today.”
He called it “the biggest challenge today” to “make sure that those benefits” from free trade “reach out to every single citizen.”
“But the solution proposed by some is not by destroying what we have built, it is not taking a different route to choose a road toward isolationism and destruction,” Peña Nieto said. “What we need to do is keep up the pace toward development.”
The leader said that when he made the earlier Trump comparison, he was emphasizing that “in the past, some leaders addressed their societies in those terms.”
“Hitler and Mussolini did that. And the outcome, it’s clear to everyone, it resulted in devastation and turned out to be a tragedy for mankind, and we saw it last century,” Peña Nieto added.
“…My message was about to value what we have and also to be aware of the road that we need to walk still. But that’s the benefit that we’re looking for, to take the benefits to our society.”
Obama added later in the press conference that he’s “not prepared to concede the notion that some of the rhetoric that’s been popping up is populist.”
“Somebody else who has never shown any regard for workers, has never fought on behalf of social justice issues or making sure that poor kids are getting a decent shot at life or have healthcare — in fact, have worked against economic opportunity for workers and ordinary people — they don’t suddenly become a populist because they say something controversial in order to win votes,” Obama said.
“That’s not the measure of populism. That’s nativism or xenophobia or worse. Or it’s just cynicism. So, I would just advise everybody to be careful about suddenly attributing to whoever pops up at a time of economic anxiety the label that they’re populist. Where have they been? Have they been on the front lines working on that for working people?”