“Each generation doubtless feels called upon to save the world” Albert Camus begins saying in his speech on obtaining the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature. That is the spirit with which Mexican President López Obrador appears to have undertaken his government: change everything. There were good reasons to change what did not work, thus opening an opportunity toward the integral development of the country. But instead of following that route, he has dedicated himself to the destruction of what exists, which entails profound and serious consequences for the future.
There is no doubt that the president inherited an infinity of problems and maladjustments, but also some very successful and functional assets. However, his logic has been to deny any value whatsoever to what exists without even the offer of an alternative. As a method of distraction, it is a diversionary tactic that is potentially effective, but only for the short term. Four long years from the conclusion of his six-year term, the country requires more than distractions.
First the distractions. By nature, the president confronts and stigmatizes: he does this with the economy, with former presidents, with the business community, and with the entire gamma that what he groups, using one of his favorite words, the “adversaries.” As a strategy of government, it is a useful instrument, as long as the essential works, that is, that the economy runs in reasonable fashion, that at least indispensable jobs are created and that the citizenry enjoys sufficient satisfiers in their daily life. The problem is that the essential is not working and, in fact, it has begun to spring leaks, not only because of the pandemic, but also due to the lack of investment. Because of the manner in which he disposes of public funds (transfers to electoral clienteles with little or a null multiplier effect) the government does not possess the capacity to invest, and because of the way that he frightens investors, nor is there the materialization of private investment. One must question oneself as to what benefit there is in confrontation.
Second, the rhetoric does indeed matter: presidents, in the way they communicate, fabricate political facts and more so in a country with institutions so weak that the president has summarily thrust them aside. The presidential vernacular alienates vast sectors of the population, reverting into criticism of the president himself, as well as into the absence of opportunities for the completion of economic projects. Expectations are highly negative and overcoming them will become increasingly difficult. In a country with the demographic profile of Mexico, with so many young people, six years without the creation of jobs represents an enormous sociopolitical risk. So great is this that one of the targets of the president’s clientele strategy are precisely unemployed youths. But if the economic trends proceed as they have to date, there will soon be no sufficient budget for so many unemployed persons, young or old.
Third, the presidential popularity is not fictitious, but it is also not immovable. Everything indicates that this popularity is sustained on two mainstays: before anything else, on the credibility of the president and his history of denouncing problems such as poverty and corruption. Many Mexicans not only believe him, but they abhor the traditional political alternatives, forcing them to stay where they are, even while many of them are already nursing severe doubts concerning the viability of the governmental project. On the other hand, the strategy of monetary transfers to populations such as that of older adults and young people are not so innocent: they follow a strictly political and electoral rationale. It is very probable that these transfers will not reduce poverty nor will they avoid the recruitment of young people by the narcos. But in terms of an exchange of money for support, these programs are potentially infallible.
Finally, an economic rebound should not be confused with a recovery of the economy. The size of the collapse is such that it is natural, simple logic, to expect a rebound during these and the upcoming months. However, a rebound does not imply a recovery, which is always accompanied by investment, growth in employment and a rise in consumption. None of this is possible to discern at present, the reason that the most benign and optimistic of prognoses are terrible. Without a change in political strategy, the economy will not be able to recover in ensuing years.
I return to the beginning: no one can doubt that the president inherited huge problems, which he himself summed up as poverty, inequality, corruption and low growth. All of these are real problems that merit an integral strategy permitting not only overcoming them, but also their eradication. However, instead of constructing that strategy, the president has devoted himself to destroying everything that exists, much of which is not only functional, but also highly benign. Step by step, the destruction has been rising, to the extent that the moment will come that it will not be reversible. As the anecdote goes about the pilgrim who wanted to go to Rome, if the president wants to build a country according to his vision, he cannot continue on the road he is on.
The discourse of Camus went on: “My generation knows that it will not [change the world], but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists of preventing it from destroying itself.” We have witnessed two years of systemic destruction. Isn’t it time to start to build?