In 1986 Hollywood released the comedy The Three Amigos. It’s the story of three travelling comedians (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short) who, dressed as Mexican cowboys, arrive in the town of Santo Poco to put on a show. Instead, they find a Mexican town besieged by a gang of bearded ruffians on horseback commanded by “El Guapo.” Naturally, the three friends (with the help of the beautiful and long-suffering Carmen) manage to free Santo Poco from El Guapo and his henchmen. The script for The Three Amigos indulges every cliché and stereotype that Americans have of Mexicans. In fact, El Guapo and his gang fit perfectly with Donald Trump’s description of Mexican immigrants: murderers, rapists, bad hombres. And, let’s not forget, animals.
When Trump first began his anti-immigration rhetoric, and before Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) became president, the Mexican politician reacted indignantly: “Trump and his advisers speak of Mexicans the way Hitler and the Nazis referred to the Jews. We cannot consent to a state policy that undermines the dignity of the legitimate interests of Mexicans and the nation.” AMLO also denounced the wall that the US is building along the Mexican border as “a monument to hypocrisy and cruelty.” In contrast, Trump said “it’s beautiful” and added that “Mexico is not our friend.”
The most interesting thing about the meeting between AMLO and Trump is not the falsehoods they said, but the truths they left unsaid
That was then. Now, as President of Mexico, López Obrador recently visited the White House and, staring President Trump in the eye, acknowledged that: “We have received from you, President Trump, understanding and respect.” AMLO also said he appreciated the way Trump and his government treat Mexico and Mexicans. Trump was not far behind in his praise of Mexico, its president, and the millions of Mexican immigrants who work in his country.
Grandiose, vacuous and clearly mendacious statements are business-as-usual in meetings between heads of state. In fact, the most interesting thing about the meeting between AMLO and Trump is not the falsehoods they said, but the truths they left unsaid. Perhaps the most important of these unmentionables is that they both preside over nations where Covid-19 is wreaking havoc. The United States is the world champion in terms of absolute number of infections, while the runner-up is Brazil, led by Jair Bolsonaro. But very close behind them, near the top of the tragic list, is Mexico.
Unfortunately, it appears that the “remake” of The Three Amigos is going to be a tragedy rather than a farce. The three stars in the current version are at once very different and very similar. Their origins, careers, and ideologies could not be more different. But they are identical in terms of their narcissism, populism and irresponsibility.
Initially, all three minimized the severity of the pandemic. All three were slow to react and spurned the recommendations of experts.
Some of the most iconic photos this pandemic will leave behind will be of these three presidents without protective masks
Face masks and social distancing just aren’t their style. “With the coronavirus, there is this idea that you can’t hug,” the Mexican president said on TV. “You have to hug. Nothing happens. What protects us is not allowing corruption,” then he displayed several amulets and religious images that, according to him, are his “protective shield.” For their part, Trump and Bolsonaro (who is referred to by his followers as “the Trump of the Tropics”) also recommended the use of amulets. Theirs, however, are not religious but pharmaceutical. Trump was the first to recommend the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat victims of Covid-19. In fact, he announced that he himself was testing the drug. The same with President Bolsonaro (who tested positive for the virus last week). Both ordered the purchase of massive quantities of this controversial drug whose healing properties have not been scientifically validated, despite the overwhelming evidence that it has dangerous side effects. And, of course, we cannot forget President Trump’s display of medical scholarship when, at a press conference, he speculated that taking bleach might be a good remedy for the virus, as well as bombarding it with ultraviolet rays.
The three amigos share a deep-rooted disregard for science and experts. Another feature they share is a willingness to use the health emergency to deepen the divisions that fragment their respective societies. Who would have thought that the use of a mask could be transformed into a wedge issue? Well, the three amigos did.
Certainly, some of the most iconic photos this pandemic will leave behind will be of these three presidents and their loyal followers defiantly exposing their faces without protective masks. These will be contrasted with the photos of people wearing their masks, thus illustrating a world divided between pro-mask and anti-mask groups.
We can be sure that the approach of these maskless Covid-19 leaders is not sustainable and that the pandemic itself will eventually undermine the power that the three amigos wield today.