What’s to Come

Luis Rubio

The catastrophe to come was ever more evident. Errors and losses accumulated, the destruction was uncontainable and the end was imminent, yet no one rebelled. The population backed the government to the end, though this would imply total destruction. Thus begins the book of Ian Kershaw entitled The End: Hitler’s Germany, 1944-45. The historian relates the last months of the government of Hitler, a tragic moment at which the Soviet and American troops advanced systematically from opposite sides, the bombings destroyed entire cities, devastating apartments and iconic buildings, leaving the population in the street. The rational thing to do for the German government would have been to begin negotiations for a conditional surrender, but it wasn’t like that: the obsession with not reproducing prior historical moments (Germany’s surrender in 1918) led to total collapse. The relevance of this anecdote lies in that it was not only the government that that was obsessed: the population (with natural exceptions) was hand in glove with its government and not willing to think differently.

What renders this fascinating and tragic story relevant, and the conclusion at which Kershaw arrives, is that the population had been blinded to the surrounding reality because of its obsessive devotion to the leader. Nothing could make them grasp an alternative even if that meant the physical destruction of the cities or of their living conditions. The charisma was so powerful that no one seemed capable of thinking for themselves, of recognizing how dramatic the situation was, understanding the consequences of their actions throughout the war or realizing the massive disaster that the government and its messianic project had been.

Mexico is not Nazi Germany nor is the president Hitler, but there is an obvious similarity in the manner in which a certain part of the Mexican population follows López Obrador blindly and refuses to recognize that the deterioration is growing, and the absence of solutions is crystal-clear. The charisma of the president has permitted him to build a narrative that (so far) dominates the political panorama, controls the public discussion, holds in distain any critical posture or alternative. The problem, which will be increasingly apparent as the inexorable political cycle advances, is that people do not live by words alone.

The success of the narrative, which is also reflected in the president’s popularity, will not be sufficient to compensate for the absence of investment, jobs or opportunities. Without doubt, the strategy of social transfers aids in solidifying the credibility of the government, given that the latter represents a source of sustenance that is of utmost importance for a massive portion of the population. However, there are two factors that suggest that the strength of the charisma in Mexico’s case is very different from that described previously. First and foremost, after a decade during which the migration of Mexicans to the United States was minimal, in this last year it has literally exploded, amassing hundreds of thousands of aspirants to cross the Rio Grande in order to incorporate themselves into the U.S. workforce. Those individuals are going because they do not see opportunities in Mexico. Receiving a “support”, as the president terms it, is very nice, but does not compensate for the lack of economic growth, the only way that poverty can be reduced in a definitive manner. People are voting with their feet.

The other factor is that Mexicans have withstood decades of unkept promises, governments of diverse stripes that promise nirvana, only to end up with business as usual. All those governments offered solutions that were, nearly always, unfulfillable, and the population understands it thus. The handouts that a family receives are always welcome, but the recipients of   this largesse know that it is in essence a mere exchange of favors, a process that is repeated every six years: the names and the methods vary, but however charismatic the figure, that same population that discerns so few options in their daily lives knows that someone else will come to offer more funhouse mirrors, reinitiating the cycle once more.

None of this diminishes the extraordinary capacity of the president to manipulate perceptions and expectations, hence his popularity indexes, but for decades Mexicans have been observing the same phenomenon and there is no reason to expect something different this time around. Of course, there are many imponderables along the road that will determine how this all ends, aspects concerning the economic performance (especially the exchange rate), the appearance (or not) of some alternative figure outside the presidential entourage, and the ability of the president himself to avoid greater fragmentation in the Morena party. The coin is in the air.

The story that Kershaw tells is terrorizing because of the suffering, fear and irrationality that dominates the thought processes not of the leaderships (who understood perfectly well what was coming) but also of the population in general in the face of the certain defeat. No one had the capacity nor the desire to drive a change of course to evade a catastrophe. To follow the leader blindly was its nodal characteristic and determined how all ended. With luck, the nature of the Mexican and a long history of shattered expectations, will avert a catastrophe, but nothing will diminish the extraordinary costs of a government that knew how to foment the conflict but not to resolve the problems or create conditions for progress.