That’s No Joke

Luis Rubio

The old Soviet Union and Mexico had a distinctive element in common: jokes. There are books of Soviet jokes that were also told in Mexico: both societies were reflected at a distance with respect to the authorities and the contempt that the latter lavished on the population. Faced with the lack of access, the population jested, generally with bitterness and cynicism. Things have changed, but less than one would think. Ridiculing the politicians and their actions is no longer news because not a day goes by that opportunities are not generated and the social networks have become a perfect medium for the expression of the citizenry. But the jokes do not contribute to solving the problems of the country just when these are accruing and they are coupled with the process of succession, the most sensitive moment of any political system.

Jokes lessen tensions and allow for the channeling of the discontent toward a dimension of political stability so that both violent and totalitarian governments such as that of the USSR as well as that of the bland Mexican version of authoritarianism understood it as such and they used it to their benefit. The extreme was a governor of the state of Coahuila in the seventies who, wanting to know what the population was thinking, disguised himself as an ordinary citizen and ended up in jail after a bout of fisticuffs in a bar… Keeping a finger on the pulse of the population is a key function in the art of governing; however it is nonetheless no substitute for governing, but that has become, unfortunately, the reality of the country in recent decades: the citizens scoffed at the politicians and these scoffed at the citizens, nothing nor no one built the future that, one would suppose, is the main responsibility of those in government.

In the midst of jokes and memes, we are drawing near the succession process without any certainty about what is in store for Mexicans. A glance at the political panorama reveals, in the traditional phrase, slim pickings but, different from the past, a crisis of the political parties that does not augur well. One should at least ask oneself, in a world in which the old instruments and criteria for predicting elections have ceased being pertinent, why should Mexicans be distinct? That is, in the same way that the results in Nuevo León and of the other seven states were not predicted correctly in 2016, what makes one think that it will be distinct in 2018: what makes us think that we are not advancing toward a political crisis?

On the one hand we find the citizens and their voting rationales; on the other, the parties are no longer the appurtenant reference for a good part of the citizenry due to their aloofness, indolence and corruption. On the other hand, the PRI is living through fateful days: it may have won two of the three recent electoral bouts, but the derision is unending; certainly, I suppose, the PRIists will think that it is better to win by losing rather than losing by losing, but this is no consolation for the party that has the greatest responsibility for the permanent crisis that the country is currently undergoing. The PRI has no lack of competent potential leaders, but it has for years devoted itself to not governing, which is, from my perspective, Mexico’s true challenge: governing with sights on the future.

The PAN, on its part, is not doing any better: its internal divisions are legendary, its incapacity for governing patent and its contradictions –derived from the clash between their surmised moral principles and their pettiness when (un)organizing themselves- incorrigible. Today there are three ambitious precandidates dedicated to ensuring that the other does not make it: in their unmistakable ritual, they would rather finish off the party than support a credible alternative.

The PRD confronts a dilemma of a party that cannot win by itself but that cannot afford itself the luxury of entering into an alliance that would make it disappear from the map. Morena is the new political force of the Left that survives by being the victim instead of attempting to govern. Like the PRI, although for distinct reasons, it avails itself of the status quo and prefers to remain there.

The tangible fact is that no one worries about creating a better system of government so that the country can grow and prosper. Engulfed in a useless discussion on the permanence of this or that social or economic policy, we have lost sight of that what is important is not only who enters the government (or even how) but instead what they get there for; precisely what matters to 99% of the citizenry. Worse yet, the electoral processes no longer even generate legitimacy. Under these conditions, it is not inconceivable that the citizens would opt for decisions that the parties would consider heretical.

For me there is no doubt that our great deficit is one of government more than one of democracy, not because the latter functions like clockwork, but because democracy is solely a method for making decisions, but these do indeed have to be made; insofar as Mexican democracy commits itself exclusively to changing authorities but does not have the capacity to oblige them to govern –that is, for them to guarantee security, pave the streets, do not abuse the citizens- the citizen will end up losing. That is why the jokes are increasingly bitterer, uncouth and direct; with the lack of government, everything is a caricature: what is important has vanished without a trace and that’s no joke.