Nostalgia is strikingly afoot. The government of Enrique Peña Nieto is finally over, and another is about to begin, about which it will surely be more difficult to find reasons to laugh. In this regard there is a great parallel between Peña and Nixon.
Nixon was a strange person, mistrustful, taciturn and Machiavellian. He plotted dirty tricks of every ilk (Tricky Dick), the product perhaps of a mind simultaneously brilliant and derailed, a mind that could envision a strategy for world peace (Nixon goes to China), and that at the same time could create an ambience that led to a group of “White House Plumbers” to enter and steal documents from the Democrats from a building that became famous for it: Watergate. His personality and contradictions made him an easy target for cartoonists and comedians who exploited every declaration, absurdity or action that made their readers do nothing but laugh.
Art Buchwald, for decades the dean of comedy writers, enjoyed Nixon like few others. For various years, he wrote multiple columns describing, conjuring up and satirizing the President of the time, to the extent that satire about Nixon became a sport for this humor columnist. While most people in the U.S. finally rested when Nixon resigned from the Presidency, Buchwald lamented this as no other: “If the truth to be known,” he wrote in a later column, “I needed Richard Nixon a lot more than he needed me.”
Something like that is happening with Enrique Peña Nieto. Of course, the exiting president is nothing like Nixon in temperament or characteristics but, as with Nixon, the end of his presidential term brought to a stop an entire era in Mexico. Whatever comes to pass with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the country will never be the same again.
Peña Nieto vowed to restore order and return Mexico to the path of economic growth. His offer consisted of restoring what, in his vision, had functioned in the past. Six years later, he leaves the country with some new -and not to be disdained- instruments, such as the energy reform that, were it to continue, would permit the transformation of vast regions of the country in the future. He also leaves Mexicans in the hands of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The two sides of the same coin: the achievements and the consequences.
The paradox of the moment is not small: in their historical vision, both personages, the entering president and the one taking his leave, inhabit a similar world. Both are politicians anchored in the Mexico of the sixties and they uphold an enormous nostalgia for the country that, in their minds, worked well. Both believe that the way to emerge from the problems of today (and that are defined nearly exactly in the same manner: security, growth and order) lies in the rebuilding of the old, all-powerful State of yesteryear. Where they differ, as occurred in the then PRIist world, is in their political philosophy. Peña did not advance his reconstructive project beyond the caricature of the imperial presidency, to a great degree because it is impossible to do so, but also because it flagrantly contradicted his own reforms. One cancelled out the other.
López Obrador feels the same nostalgia for the overpowering “rector” State of before, but he has been building it with power and not with luxurious artifices or dazzling mirrors. He is not motivated by media histrionics, but by the power to be wielded. As he readies himself to govern, now formally, he counts on a span of control never before possible, at least since there have been open and competitive elections; in addition, in a closed political system centered upon the president and practically without institutional limits in his range-of-action, his capacity “for doing” is practically limitless. If one adds to this the fact that a good part of the press has remained silent, has been intimidated or has engaged in self-censorship, AMLO is found at a rare point in time that may lead either to an extraordinary transformation or to a hecatomb. It all depends on one person.
The old presidency delivered some encouraging results, but also uncontainable, pernicious and highly destructive crises. From a country in ruins after the Revolution, today Mexicans have a vibrant nation with an economy in a much better condition -with all its avatars- than AMLO’s rhetoric during the campaign suggested. In addition, there is a population anxious to take the great leap forward that AMLO has put forth. With it all, the change, whatever it might be, engenders expectations and fears (again, two sides of the same coin), entailing an enormous responsibility, because the risks -of doing and of not doing- are also great.
New presidency, country in progress. The paradigm shifts, but that does not modify the surrounding reality. The government’s mode-of-action will set the tone and the rhythm, which will inevitably generate opportunities that will confirm prejudices or modify them, so that the satirists, the cartoonists, and the critics talk of the power. The society would also have to define itself; what Norbert Elias called “the civilizing process”.
Buchwald benefited from the lunacy and gaffes of the president at the time, while facilitating the society’s coming out of the trance. Nations grow and develop when the society acts and is responsible. That is how the Mexico of today must be.