At what point did Mexico get fucked? Thus begins Conversation in the Cathedral, the novel by Vargas Llosa, wondering about the moment when the decline of his country, Peru, began. Now, by consciously promoting it, it seems that the Mexican government is determined that Mexicans know that this process started at the beginning of 2018. The question is, in the interest of what, at what cost?
In a normal country, the government represents, and owes its function, to the whole citizenry, not only to those of its preference or who voted for it. Its obligation is to carry out its activities within the framework of the law, without abusing its attributions or using State institutions for private purposes. Over more than five years, the government of President Peña has shirked its responsibilities on multiple occasions, has employed biased and dubious resources to evade the law, and justified acts of patent corruption with reasoning and mechanisms conceived so that its officials do not have to pay for their errors or the potential crimes in which they may have incurred. The loss of prestige and unpopularity it enjoys is not the product of chance.
In spite of this, it acts as if he were in full control, as if the institutions of the state functioned impartially and professionally and as if its prestige were in its zenith. A government that does not even pretend to have the monopoly of the use of force -what defines the State- has assumed the mission of persecuting a candidate for the presidency as if it were a matter of national security, as if he were a public plague and not a contestant who, with all his attributes and defects, has the same right as any other citizen to compete for the presidency, provided he does so within the established legal channels.
When even the pretense of civility is abandoned, all that remains is chaos or, as Diderot wrote, “from fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.” And the government seems determined to take that step, without regard for the consequences of its actions, that is, with utter irresponsibility. This is how the beginning of the end starts. The strange thing, although not so much, is that it is the government itself -the supposed guarantor of peace- that is bent on pushing the limits of civility in a country that already lives not only an extreme polarization, but a total absence of legitimacy in government institutions.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates and Glaucon discuss the plight of the people chained in a cave in which the prisoners try to understand the shadows that pass over the wall before them. I resort to the Allegory of the Cave to try to understand the governmental rationale in the way it is acting in the face of a presidential contender which, little by little, it is turning into a martyr.
It seems clear that the strategy lies in creating a sense of fear for any change as a means to preserve what exists. As an electoral strategy, the promotion of a certain emotion constitutes a perfectly legitimate mechanism and all political parties and candidates in the world do so systematically. The issue here is that it is not a political party or candidate that is promoting that emotion, but the government making partisan use of the institutions of justice to advance their own political agenda, as if these were the fifties of the last century. Impossible not to remember Talleyrand’s famous admonition: “they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”
They did not learn of the risks of polarization, they did not learn from the consequences of the attempted impeachment of 2005 and they did not learn from what has happened in nations like Venezuela, Zimbabwe and many others that, prodded by the government’s own actions, led to chaos. Once that step is taken, it becomes increasingly difficult to recover the peace and tranquility of the population, making it impossible to govern.
Mexican society is angry and that is precisely the emotion that the government should not be stirring up, because it leads to radical electoral decisions. In this, the contrast with China is paramount: there, the fear of chaos has led the government, over several decades, to accelerate the pace of reforms in order to satisfy the population and avoid chaotic situations. In Mexico, the government itself has entrenched itself, is dynamiting the political stability for which it is responsible and defends itself as if the enemy were the society.
Democracy is less about elections than about how to resolve disputes that arise in society and to make the decisions that are required to build the future. The militant, partisan and biased use of the institutions leads to the destruction of the few institutions that the country has and, worse, when the one who throws the first stone (and the second and the third) is a government so extraordinarily discredited by corruption scandals that are infinitely worse than those than those the aforementioned candidate is accused of.
Certainly, any act of corruption or alleged illegality must be combated, but what President Peña’s government is doing recalls another famous phrase of Talleyrand, the eighteenth-century French statesman: “It is worse than a crime, it is stupid. ”