Evil Past

Luis Rubio

It has become frequent to state, with profound conviction, that everything in the past was bad and that for that reason the current government constitutes the salvation of Mexico. While for some this is rhetoric, for many it is an absolute truth that does not admit debate. However, it is peculiar to exercise a previously thwarted (or nonexistent) freedom of expression, won the hard way in that very past, to denounce the past. And worse yet when the objective of the regime is precisely to reconstruct the authoritarian world of yesteryear.

This is heard in the discourse of legislators and in the declarations of members of the presidential team; it occurs repeatedly in the early-morning presidential briefings; it is reproduced on the social networks as a mantra: everything that previously existed was bad. For that congregation of believers, post-revolutionary authoritarianism did not exist, nor did the financial crises; there does not exist (or existed prior to the brilliant management of the pandemic) a growing middle class; there were never currency restrictions placed on the normal functioning of the economy; there were no competent governments nor were there successful companies, decorated world-acclaimed scientists or Mexican Nobel Prizes. The world was born in 2018. Before that, as in the Bible, there was chaos.

If the world was born yesterday and everything in the past was chaos, the future would inexorably be better. If in addition this is believed fervently, the citizenry would stop being one to become nothing more than pawns at the service of a manipulating leader. This must be the origin of so-called fake news, where what matters is are not facts but beliefs and, to an even greater degree, if these beliefs become the new and undisputable dogma. But the problem for Mexico is that many, too many, believe and beliefs are not subject to debate or learning, which explains much of what is happening in the public forums, beginning with the morning briefings and the legislative ambit; this is about revealed truths, not about issues subject to legitimate debate. Is this not a new authoritarianism?

The belief that there is nothing good or redeemable from the past is objectively false not only because the opposite is verifiable, but also because the majority of those who espouse this perspective show, in their own selves, enormous advances and familial progress. To be sure, the objective is not relevant if it is a belief, and still worse, if it is found so deeply rooted.

Some ten years ago, when Luis de la Calle and I presented the book Clasemediero, we invited several political leaders to comment on it. One of these, a leading member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) of the time, began his commentary, quoting from memory, in the following manner: “When I was invited to comment on this book I felt very uncomfortable. For me, in my university days, the term middle-classer was employed disparagingly to denigrate someone who did not behave like a poor person. However, when I started to read the book I realized that it was describing me.” Next he went on to say that he had been born in a rural town, was the son of humble country folk, but due to a scholarship he had been able to study, go to college and live in an urban apartment, which his parents would ever have been able to imagine. The commentator had discovered that he himself had experienced social mobility and that Mexico had changed in such a way that he could express himself freely thanks to the changes undergone in this past decades.

As Aristotle wrote in his On Rhetoric, facts are only about the past and about the present; regarding the future, politics’ fundamental concern, there are only aspirations and interests. The past is an issue of legitimate debate because there are concrete facts. In the matter of the country’s advance or retreat, it is remarkably easy to elucidate where the latter and the former have been. For example, no one can deny that there are states (such as Aguascalientes) that have grown at rates of more than 7% annually for forty years, a milestone under any metric. In addition, it is objectively certain that entities like Chiapas and Oaxaca have hardly been able to stay in the same place during those four decades: these are two indisputable truths. Negating it would imply attempting to follow or recreate the great “achievement” of the southern states instead of gaining an understanding of the causes of the success of places like Aguascalientes or Querétaro.

It is easy to lose oneself in rhetoric that pursues two evident tasks: one, preserving poverty because a country of impoverished persons is a country of dependents, thus of easily manipulated individuals. This formula is not new and is always successful for one who sets claim on remaining in power. On the other hand, the aim is to move beyond merely breeding dependents on a leader, to pursue blind loyalty. The great accomplishment of the president lies in that he is able to count on a prodigious trail of disciples who believe these falsehoods. Reasoning is not called for.

The tragedy for the country is that progress is not possible when the population treads blindly in the footsteps of a commander-in-chief whose goal is to perpetuate poverty, for which believers and not citizens are required, clienteles, not productivity.  The victims, whether they recognize it or not, are those who believe rather than elucidate and who are the “beneficiaries” of the dependence instigated by the regime.