How St. Charles native's tie got mixed up with Trump, Mexico

It was a moment for television news highlight reels. Just two months after using the strongest of expletives to tell the world Mexico would not pay for Donald Trump's wall, former Mexican President Vincente Fox appeared on CNN brandishing an equally inflammatory new wardrobe item.

"This is a Donald Trump tie," Fox told the interviewer. "And then you see here that it's made in China. So what is the integrity of this man? By importing ties from China he is not committed with his promise to U.S. workers that he will defend jobs."

The now infamous tie didn't belong to Fox. Just moments before the interview, it decorated the neck of St. Charles native Mark Vargas.

"I'm an American of Mexican decent, and I'm also a Republican," Vargas said. "It was serendipitous this election that I got connected with President Fox."

Fox's use of the tie inched Vargas toward a goal made as a student at Judson University in Elgin. Watching the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks he decided to stick his neck out in the name of service to his country.

He landed an internship with former U.S. Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, followed by work on businessman Ron Gidwitz' 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Then he moved to Washington, D.C., gambling that the $72 in his checking account wouldn't run out before his luck did. He scored a job interview at the Pentagon for a position that would involve spending most of his time in Iraq.

There was only one question during the interview: why did Vargas want the job? He gave a response he'd been thinking about ever since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I believe we're waging the battle of my generation in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq," Vargas said. "One day, I want to look back and say that I was a small link in bringing stability to a war-torn country."

Vargas got the job, and spent 2008 through 2010 helping create Iraq's version of a chamber of commerce.

Returning home, he started doing government consulting as he worked to form a tech startup through Chicago's 1871 business incubator. Last summer, he got a call from a consulting firm that had signed Fox as a client and wanted Vargas to help set up media interviews for Fox. Just like that, Vargas joined Fox on a summer tour of the U.S. It was just in time to catch a wave of Trump rhetoric about building a border wall with Mexico and getting a better North American Free Trade Agreement.

"What I appreciate about President Fox," Vargas said, "is he was willing to go out there and defend 130 million citizens in Mexico and nearly 40 million Mexican-Americans to say that divisive rhetoric has consequences."

But Vargas also suggested Fox set an example and omit curse words during any future discussion about Trump's border wall. Fox has kept his comments PG, but he hasn't toned down the content.

In a Nov. 9 column in the International Business Times, Fox referred to Trump as "an authoritarian racist." In reference to Trump's promises to renegotiate NAFTA, Fox tweeted: "Mexico is much bigger than @realDonaldTrump, we're a successful and cheerful nation, and if he doesn't want to work with us, well, his loss!"

Fox wrote that South America, China, India and Europe are all fertile grounds to expand the Mexican economy if Trump makes the U.S. an unwilling partner. Vargas looks back on the exchanges as an example of how Trump's comments about Mexico and Mexicans might fuel a political divorce between the two nations.

"Trump, when he said, 'I'm not president of the world,' it was a key indicator that he didn't understand the office," Vargas said. "President Fox always says there isn't a president of the universe, but the closest is president of the United States. Everything the president of the United States does impacts the global economy."

Vargas pointed to the rise of far-left Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador following Trump's election. Vargas said Obrador would move Mexico toward new alliances with China and Russia. Fox would be a better Mexican representative when Trump begins NAFTA renegotiations, Vargas said.

"We're not Canadian, Mexican, American; we're North American. It's so important economically for the United States to have a positive relationship with Mexico. I didn't support Trump, but he's a member of the (Republican) Party. His success is going to be our success, but there's a lot of things that need to be repaired."

Immigration is an important cousin to trade agreements. Vargas said Fox does not support open borders. The reality is more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. to return to Mexico than are coming here.

"Some jobs in manufacturing are going to Mexico," Vargas said. "There are communities that have been hit hard because of those jobs going to Mexico. But at a 30,000-foot perspective, the strong partnership between Mexico, the United States and Canada has created more jobs and infused more money back into the U.S. economy."

Vargas hopes to maintain his relationship as an unpaid adviser to Fox. He'd love to broker the first face-to-face meeting between Fox and Trump. If that meeting ever happens, Fox won't be wearing a Donald Trump tie, Vargas said.

"He kept my tie but said he'd never wear it again."

Mark Vargas gave his pink tie made by Donald Trump's company to Vincente Fox in preparation for several TV and newspaper interviews on Trump's comments about Mexico. Photo courtesy of Mark Vargas
Before becoming a confidante to former Mexican President Vincente Fox, St. Charles native Mark Vargas helped build an Iraqi chamber of commerce. courtesy of Mark Vargas
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