Luis Rubio

The popularity of the President of Mexico, while lower than before and of some of his predecessors, continues to be high. Many ask themselves how this is possible given the complex, uncertain and remarkably deteriorated situation of the country and of the economy. The President has devoted himself to undermining all the foundations of development, to debilitating the factors that make economic growth possible, and to eliminating the mechanisms built to confer stability and predictability of governmental actions. Despite all that, his popularity does not appear to be affected by his decision-making style nor its consequences. This is not an esoteric question nor is it difficult to elucidate.

The President’s popularity sustains itself on various elements, not all of which are found under his control. First, the extraordinary propagandistic strategy of his early-morning briefs exerts the effect of keeping his social base captive. This component is key to his popularity and has been proven over time: the connection of the President to the population is real and transcends readings of it based on reason. As in all quasi-religious couplings, it is sustainable while the ingredients that feed it, above all the president’s credibility, endure. The President exploits a profound and ancestral resentment of a broad segment of the populace that has felt betrayed for decades or centuries due to unmet promises. The hate that he promotes toward persons, institutions and groups falls on, and indeed fits the population that begrudges many aspects of the national reality like a glove. In its extreme, it has achieved the creation of fanatics among constituents who consider him a savior.

The second feature of his popularity lies in the most tangible of errors of the traditional political parties in recent years, particularly the so-called “Pact for Mexico” organized by former President Peña Nieto. The PAN and the PRD a-critically joined the now infamous Pact, thus making them fully dependent on the PRI’s success of failure on the project, and it also made them inherit the full historical baggage the PRI came along with. There are surely explanations of why they were willingly yoked together, but, in strategic terms, the two “opposition” political parties sold their souls to a president whose objectives were not the transformation of the country through the reforms pledged, but the enrichment of his small coterie of allies. The PAN and the PRD de facto accepted an absurdity: any upside would have accrued to PRI, while all the downside would be ascribed to all three. This meant that, for the average Mexican, the differences among the parties became blurred, a circumstance that today translates into one thing on which President López Obrador has capitalized with singular ability: the citizenry can harbor doubts regarding the management of the current government, but it does not perceive any alternative among the established political parties.

The great flaw of the reforms of recent decades resides in their partiality, in that not everything was subject to modification. The central, implicit, condition of the reformer project rested on protecting the “system” and its beneficiaries: like the Teachers’ Union (SNTE and CNTE) as well as the political class or particular interests –private, union, political- of any ilk. That guaranteed that the benefits would not be disseminated equitably, which can be appreciated as otherwise obvious in the regional contrasts that linger. This comprises a third mainstay of this presidential popularity: he has been able to convince a segment of the population that the system does not work for them, profiting as it does from their accumulated feelings and resentments.

Ultimately, however, popularity is sustained in the use that López Obrador makes of the population and that the latter makes of him. It is a society of convenience that is solely sustainable as long as its pillars are not overly worn down. Thus the enormous impact of the evidence of corruption against the President’s brother, the thefts within the institution supposedly created “to return to the people what had been stolen,” and other cases that are certain to continue accumulating. To this, one must add the mistakes in the matter of health, the lack of medications and the clear-cut incompetence of the government. The Morena party is undergoing what happened to PAN in its time: once in office, it is falling into the Mexican government’s time-honored practices because nothing at the core of its functioning has changed.

The results of Coahuila and Hidalgo states demonstrate that there is something artificial in the percentages of popularity and that, in any case, it is not transferable to the candidates of Morena.

What has definitely changed and that should not be held up to scorn is the solidity and strength of key persons in distinct instances and that have also accumulated. The Supreme Court gave the President carte blanche in his consultations, but the five ministers who voted against this swayed the country with solid and powerful arguments. The minority that blocks constitutional excesses makes a dent in the Senate every day. Public discussion does not desist despite daily threats.

In contrast to the Mexico of a half century ago, there are factors now that limit the worst excesses and there are citizens willing to exert their rights,  providing assurances that although some battles are lost, the pillars of support of the President’s popularity are to a great degree weaker than they might seem.