The New Masters

Luis Rubio

There is nothing like showing the true colors of a government and in Panavision. When one of the most emblematic members of President López Obrador’s coalition threatens the citizenry with sanctions, it is clear that the government is not there to govern or, in the old sense of the term, “serve” the population, but rather to use and abuse it.

In a tweet attributed to a key member of the Morena coalition, the politician warned the citizens: “I am about to formulate a law that prohibits citizens from and penalizes civilians for insulting Federal Representatives. Wait and see.” Shamelessly, this personage modifies the function of the Congress, conferring on it superiority with respect to the citizenry. According to Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution, “the national sovereignty lies originally and essentially in the people,” implying that the Representative is proposing to limit the freedom of expression of the citizenry because their commentaries or criticisms are a source of annoyance to him. This is an inherent part of the Mexican political system, but it is not often that it displays a jewel as preeminent as this, because it spells out, in black and white, its true nature.

For Mexicans this is not surprising: the government has never worked for the citizens, to the degree that more than one president has employed the rhetorical resource that civil servants “are here to serve and not to serve themselves,” thus acknowledging the phenomenon. However, the solution to the public debate regarding the criticism to which the Morena-Party Representative resorted does not fall on deaf ears: it makes plain, unblushingly and without beating around the bush, the overarching conception it has of the world, of the government and of the population.  He does not conceive himself as a representative of the people (who in fact maintain the personage), but as a beneficiary of the political system.

The problem is not particularly Mexican in nature: although democratic theory states that the legislature represents the citizenry and that the executive branch governs in tune with this, the universal practice is simpler than that: governments govern and, as Churchill said, so do the bureaucrats, who form part of the executive proper. The British statesman affirmed that in place of civil servants, what these in reality are uncivilized masters who are not accountable for their actions. The citizenry is not one of their central concerns, which is why the government has devoted itself to curtailing any vehicle of popular representation and all of the mechanisms that, in the last decades, were constructed to limit the powers of presidents with too many cravings for power and self-important bureaucrats, all this to ensure that the objectives advance for those laws and procedures duly approved in matters such as voting, energy, competition and transparency.

Mexican democracy is far from being a consolidated one that   responds to the people, but it is also not a feeble one either. The senators themselves understood this some weeks ago when, in deliberation over the National Guard, this body accepted that it was indispensable to include in the debate, and in the final content of the bill, the postures and concerns of innumerable citizen organizations that represent ideas, victims, analyses and experiences that the government (any government) can ever have because it is not, cannot be, everywhere. What a mother has suffered in the loss of a son or daughter in the drug wars or what a specialist has studied over decades are invaluable and inexorable goods for the advance of a society, and a government would be very inept to decide to ignore them.

A particular paradox of the present government lies in the extraordinary contrast between the enormous popularity and legitimacy of the President and his imperious need to disqualify and discredit any instance of criticism, counterweight or opposition. In frank discord with the old Mexican tradition of that “he who resists supports,” in the unforgettable words of Jesús Reyes-Heroles, President  López Obrador is insistent upon eliminating all resistance and all support. The history of recent decades suggests that the best way is exactly the opposite of this: the things that last in a presidential legacy are precisely those that, at their time, enjoyed far-reaching social, partisan and legislative support, because that creates long-time stakeholders, thus becoming permanent. The things costing AMLO a great amount of opposition to dismantle are those that resulted from broad-ranging backing and consultations, something that should surprise no one. After the actions of the Senate in the National Guard affair, it looks likely that the resulting law will acquire permanence, in contrast with those of AMLO’s bills which have been imposed as if coming from a barbarian charge from the Southeast.

The contempt for the people that the Representative exhibited is not novel; many presidents were the butt of criticism and jest because the latter is the sole recourse the citizenry possesses to exert an influence on the government’s actions. What the politician does not recognize is that the citizens have a great asset in their favor and they know something that self-important politicians easily forget with regard to presidential terms of office in Mexico: there is no ill that lasts six years, nor a populace that will stand for it.