Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies

Julia Preston and Denise Dresser Discuss Mexico and the U.S. in the Trump Era.

October 7, 2019

The “Old and New Challenges to Mexican Democracy” conference was inagurated with an exciting roundtable discussion between two of the most important researchers, analysts, and commentors on contemporary Mexican politics, Julia Preston and Denise Dresser.

The event  “Trump and Lopez Obrador: The United States and Mexico in the Era of America First,” was hosted by Gil Joseph, Farnam Professor of History & International Studies and co-sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism. 

Dr. Joseph spoke to the importance of this roundtable as a means to move past the surface level analysis of U.S.-Mexican relations that pervades popular media:

The roundtable featuring Denise Dresser and Julia Preston masterfully engaged a subject–US-Mexican relations– that has generated more heat than light in this country during the Trump administration. Unfortunately, so much that we read and hear about Mexico these days comes to us in the heat of the moment—-in polemical, often xenophobic sound bites that are served up in a climate of fear about Mexico.  These sound bites and images too often emanate from partisan cable TV and talk radio, the twitterverse, and not least, from the White House, and crowd out serious discussion of Mexican affairs and relations between the two nations.  The roundtable provided an opportunity to move past the bombast and truly analyze bilateral relations under the two nations’ high-profile leaders. It revealed how in some deeply troubling ways, the Lopez Obrador administration has become complicit with Trump’s divisive ‘America First’ policy, even as it has spun it as ‘Mexico First.’  The reasons for this are manifold but the upshot of such complicity has been toxic for migrants fleeing unspeakable violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle–migrants that in recent decades, Mexico did more to support.

Graduate students who attended the event said it was a really exciting way to begin the conference. They were grateful for the opportunity to hear from two of the most important researchers and commentators on contemporary Mexico, which felt particularly special because Preston and Dresser are old friends, so there was a sense of camraderie throughout the event.

Preston and Dresser discussed the challenges of democracy in the contemporary moment, including the ways democracy has failed and the way that is reflected in both Mexican domestic politics and Mexico-US relations. Both expanded on the various ways that Lopez Obrador has conceded to the Trump adminsitration on a variety of issues, and the impact of these choices across the hemisphere. As Preston stated, “Mexico has become the wall, de facto, the barrier erected against immigrants” and this has led to the increased militarization of the Mexican national guard at Mexico’s southern border, a humanitarian crisis of those who are either stuck in limbo or deported from Mexico, and “Mexico’s now-evident racism and xenophobia” (Preston). 

Julia Preston is currently a Contributing Writer at The Marshall Project, a “nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” She comes to that role from a long career covering Mexico and Latin American. She previously covered immigration at the New York Times, and has also worked for The Times and The Washington Post. She was a member of The Times staff that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for its series that profiled the corrosive effects of drug corruption in Mexico. She is also a  1997 recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for distinguished coverage of Latin America and a 1994 winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Humanitarian Journalism.

Denise Dresser is a Mexican political analyst, columnist, and academic. She is currently a professor of political science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), where she teaches comparative politics, political economy, and Mexican politics. She specializes in Mexican politics and U.S.-Mexico relations and has authored numerous publications on the topic. She also writes a column for the Mexican newspaper Reforma and the news weekly Proceso, and was also the host of political talk shows on Mexican television and a contributing writer and frequent commentator to many Mexican, U.S. and Canadian news outlets. Forbes magazine recently listed her as one of the 50 most powerful women in Mexico. Quién magazine put her on the top of the list of 50 people who are changing Mexico and Forbes magazine also placed her on the list of the 50 people who influence the country via Twitter. She was recently awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government for her work on democracy, justice, gender equality and human rights.

This event was the innaugural event the “Old and New Challenges to Mexican Democracy” conference which took place from October 3-4, 2019, drawing specialists from across disciplines and approaches. 

This roundtable was made possible with the support of the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism at Yale and the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund.