“Distant neighbors” – That’s how Alan Riding, then-New York Times bureau chief in Mexico, labeled the relationship between the United States and Mexico 32 years ago. While not yet strategic partners, the binational levels of interdependence and cooperation achieved since then have been unprecedented in the history of both countries. We have come a long way – or so we thought until recently.

The political discourse in the U.S. over the past 18 months has touted its fair share of Mexico-bashing. It built on the negative perceptions prevalent in the U.S. regarding Mexico, as evidenced in surveys conducted by Vianovo and GSD&M. It worked for President Trump, who galvanized angry constituencies frustrated with inequality, low economic growth, immigration, and the contempt of elites in regions that have been affected and left behind by years of globalization and an unprecedented pace of technological change.

President Trump positioned immigration and trade at the epicenter of his agenda, with Mexico as the key culprit and convenient scapegoat. Both Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders did not help much in deactivating the barrage, given their questioning of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Since January 20, President Trump has started to deliver on some of his strident campaign promises – some would say forcefully, others haughtily. Those having to do in one way or another with Mexico have stood out.

The issue is that this administration is treating our neighbor to the south, the second largest destination of our exports, virtually as an enemy in terms and language that would possibly befit an acrimonious real estate deal – Unnecessarily so and to no avail. Mexico has willingly agreed to come back to the table to explore improving NAFTA and tackling immigration and security challenges together. The Twitter drama over a cancelled visit by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, as well as the misinformation related to visits by two of his ministers, are part of the latest episode of this unfortunate telenovela.

One can fully understand and expect a strong negotiation stance in any kind of bilateral or multilateral relationship. But when “strong” turns into disrespectful and downright insensitive to the other side’s dignity and circumstance, it does not serve either side well.

The consequences in Mexico have been apparent, immediate, and abrasive. A January 2017 public opinion poll by BGC depicts the frustration there. Two years ago, only 13% of those surveyed thought the relationship with the U.S. was bad. The current level is 59%, and 87% reject any and all negotiation with regard to Mexico paying for the border wall. To complicate things further, all this has not helped President Peña Nieto’s already dismal approval rating, which has hovered between 11 and 16% over the past few weeks, with 22 months still left in his tenure – an eternity in politics.

The 25-year and highly complex Mexican struggle for a democratic environment and the adoption of responsible economic policies is at stake – no trivial matter for the U.S. From a self-centered standpoint, the last thing we need is an unstable neighbor, who is unable to confront its lags in terms of poverty, inequality, security, corruption, impunity, and inclusiveness.

This is a crucial issue for the U.S. today: Are the unintended consequences of our current stance and tone on immigration, security, and NAFTA going to help induce Mexican voters to opt for populist or authoritarian anti-American options in the 2018 presidential election in Mexico?

A nationalistic call for boycotting American products and services in Mexico has already gone viral, sounding – as in the case of the border wall – raucous and like a shot-in-the-foot. It is an understandable but regrettable regression to times of mutual hostility that seemed a thing of the past. In all candor, who would consumers boycott, when the Mexican economy has a symbiotic American footprint all over? Walmart, for instance, is a visible target: Are shoppers going to penalize the largest private sector employer in Mexico, with more than 200,000 Mexican employees who work in 2,400 stores, and 28,000 domestic suppliers?

But even if rejecting President Trump does not gel in a boycott or a political movement in Mexico, some educated and reasonable opinions are calling for outright confrontation in the name of dignity. Fortunately, other voices warn against falling into nationalist, protectionist, and isolationist temptations, but they are also being silenced by resentment.

Some call for new centers of gravity in political and economic terms. China is mentioned, despite the fact that there is virtually no potential for economic complementarity. The U.S. accounts for more than 80% of Mexico’s exports whereas China barely makes it beyond the 1% mark.

The fact is that 30 years of gradual, hard-to-achieve improvements on bilateral cooperation and a vision of shared responsibilities regarding drugs, migration, and other issues are today being questioned by the average citizen south of the border because of what they have heard from our side over the past few months. We had been able to de-couple agenda issues and make real progress, despite the many challenges stemming from such a complex, asymmetric, and historically strained relationship. As an example, the recent extradition of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the world’s most sought-after drug lord, would have been unthinkable 25 years ago. Do we want a friend or a foe sharing a 2,000 mile border with 130 million affronted Mexicans, unnecessarily so? This is a particularly pertinent question for us in Texas.

Moral, philosophical, and historical arguments in favor of neighborly amity are being trounced by our belligerence on immigration, security, and trade front with jingoistic undertones. Perhaps we can reach some level of consensus if we see things through a different, more mundane prism: one of pragmatism and a bit more enlightened self-interest.

In the second of this three-part series, I will explore the first of two central elements under debate: trade.

Raul Rodriguez

Raul Rodriguez has been a resident of San Antonio since 1995. He is chairman of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation and a founding member of the Latino Jewish Leadership Council.