My work with Social Dominance Theory focuses on explaining the most obvious legitimizing myths in maintaining a negative atmosphere between America and Mexico. When it comes to this tension-filled relationnship, there are two varieties of legitimizing myths: hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths, which promote greater degrees of social inequality, and hierarchy-attenuating legitimizing myths, which promote greater social equality. Depending on the issue or commodity involved, Mexico is faced with both types of challenges when it comes to SDO conflicts with America. (Pratto, Felicia, James Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle. 1994. Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67, no. 4: 741-763.)
Ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality are the tools that legitimize discrimination. To work smoothly, these ideologies must be widely accepted within a society, appearing as self-apparent truths. Hence, we call them hierarchy-legitimizing myths. (Social Dominance Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes Felicia Pratto, Jim Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle, 1994, 741)There is substantial evidence that social dominance orientation (SDO) has several consistent attributes: (a) it can be measured reliably, (b) it is stable over time, (c) it is higher among men than among women, (d) it is higher among those who support hierarchy-enhancing ideologies and is lower among those who support hierarchy-attenuating ideologies, (e) it is higher among those who support hierarchy-enhancing policies and lower among those who support hierarchy-attenuating policies, (f) it is higher among those who choose hierarchy-enhancing social roles and lower among those who choose hierarchy-attenuating social roles, and (g) it serves to orient new social and political attitudes. (Pratto, Felicia, James Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle,1994. Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67, no. 4: 741-763)
In general, America stakes great pride in its reputation for steadiness, reliability, commitment to a positive-sum global order in which all countries that play by the rules can prosper, soft power, identification with the advancement of democratic values, and an image as a dependable ally and country committed to solving the world’s toughest problems.In the past two years, however, the U.S. policy towards Mexico has changed from this course and is now leaning toward support of hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths. This contributes to normalizing group-based inequality, which helps to destabilize partnerships. A particularly ugly hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myth was the campaign rhetoric uttered by now President Donald Trump, who labeled certain Mexicans as rapists, criminals, and “bad hombres.” This rhetoric still degrades and negatively impacts the latest immigration debates in the United States.
On January 23, 2017,Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum Regarding the Mexico City Policy: I hereby revoke the Presidential Memorandum of January 23, 2009, for the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (Mexico City Policy and Assistance for Voluntary Population Planning), and reinstate the Presidential Memorandum of January 22, 2001. Along with his earlier ugly verbalization, this order reinstates and dramatically expands the “Mexico City Policy” adopted under previous Republican administrations since 1984. This policy is also widely known as the “Global Gag Rule” due to the restrictions it places on how non-state organizations use their own non-US government private funds.
On February 7, 2017, the US State Department released a “six-month review” of the implementation of this policy, even though it admitted that six months was not nearly enough time to truly assess any effective change. Among the policies meant to be enforced: hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths that would make it more likely that Mexican asylum seekers would demonstrate credible fear about returning to their home. Add on to this environment the blunt imagery of building a ‘wall’ along the southern U.S. border with Mexico and it is obvious that current American foreign policy is utilizing these hierarchy-enhancing myths to create an atmosphere where Mexicans are meant to feel subordinate if not outright inferior to Americans. This was only intensified by the failed attempt to achieve a policy compromise on immigration earlier this year where approximately 800,000 ‘Dreamers’ (children of illegal immigrants born in America and having no negative criminal record whatsoever) would be allowed to legally remain in the United States. The White House and Republicans in the U.S. Congress could not ultimately create the compromise they themselves said they were hoping to achieve. Indeed, some of the leading figures on Trump’s team who voiced opposition to strengthening innovations in border security were ultimately fired, creating an administrative environment where people openly felt they had to follow the groupthink or be let go. As a predictable response to all of these political inconsistencies and outright open hostilities, Mexico can theoretically exercise multiple opportunities to establish and maintain closer relations with American economic and political competitors, most notably Russia.
To the detriment of harmonious international relations, the current American policies toward Mexico have comingled human social injustice with the threatened cancellation of The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was originally intended for increased commerce and trade and meant to be a positive for all of North America. NAFTA was originally signed by Mexico, Canada, and the United States in 1994 and has led to greater North American economic/financial integration and stability. The extensive U.S.-Mexican border area, an increasingly efficient supply-chain management industry, and millions of Mexican migrants now living in the United States (legally and illegally), have all contributed to Mexico’s growing positive integration with the U.S. economy. At present, America is Mexico’s largest global trading partner. Mexico is America’s third-largest, behind China and Canada. Mexico supplies approximately one third of America’s crude oil. Thus, Mexico works diligently with many vital U.S. trade/business interests that are have historically been enthusiastically supported by most Republicans. These should be potential negotiation strong points for Mexico, reminding the American Congress that it would not just be Mexico to suffer should relations between the two nations continue to worsen.
Mexico can and must respond to these threats by attempting to redefine its own national interests and economic options with the United States. The dominance of the U.S. in its own regional neighborhood is difficult to overcome. But the current administration, and its continued use of hierarchy-enhancing social dominance position, is clearly a trend Mexico cannot support and must strive to actively undermine. Of the two varieties of legitimizing myths discussed earlier, it is the hierarchy-attenuating legitimizing myths, which promote a sense of social equality have to be embedded within any and all political gestures coming out of Mexico City toward Washington. If Mexico does not find a willing or cooperative partner just to its north when it comes to this benevolent policy, then it will have little choice but to pursue its own Mexican version of hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths, casting America in a much less flattering light and seeking to establish Mexico’s own form of social dominance vis-à-vis Americans in general. The fact that this will seem almost implausible to most Americans simply illustrates just how deep the implied assumption of social dominance and inequality has become to Mexico’s neighbor to the north.