No Mercy

Luis Rubio

In the novel Zero and the Infinite of Arthur Koestler, Ivanov, a bureaucrat loyal to the orders of the Revolution’s Number 1, interrogates Rubachov, one of the old revolutionary leaders arrested for having doubts about the fate destined for his country after the revolutionary triumph. Rubachov, disillusioned, rebukes Ivanov with an incisive statement: “We made history; you only play politics.” Rubachov had fought to change history and improve the peoples’ lot. However, for him, the Party and the State no longer represented the true interests of human progress after the victory of the Revolution. The government, commandeered with an iron hand by Number 1, dedicated themselves more to preserving power than to promoting the well-being of the majority. Political reality eclipsed historical idealism. Ivanov or Rubachov? The eternal plight of those who govern.

As the López Obrador administration forges ahead, there appear interminable dilemmas of power that come to bear mercilessly because they recap what was done and what was not built, what made headway and what went into retreat. At this point, the only thing that does not stop, and that is irredeemable, is time, and that of President López Obrador begins to pay the piper.

All governments, in Mexico and in the world, follow a natural cycle that starts with great expectations and promises, ascends to the extent that it is consolidated and then commences to decline concurrently with the dawning of the inevitable succession. The most successful governments invest in foresightedness at the start to reap a harvest toward the end of the period and finish with flying colors. Whatever the discernment one may entertain of President López Obrador, this scenario is not the one that awaits him.

President López Obrador has pursued a very peculiar pattern: sudden ideas supported by deeply entrenched beliefs and prejudices instead of analysis and diagnosis deriving from the concrete situation that he encountered. Although his campaign was devoted to issues of poverty, inequality, stunted growth and corruption, none of his emblematic programs nor his public policy strategies have been effectively channeled toward dealing with them. This peculiarity determines the characteristics of the inescapable close of the cycle. Left to determine is the specific way payment will be exacted.

Of course, there is no doubt of the high levels of popularity, but they refer to the person of the President, not to his policies, in which divergences are great. While his predecessors displayed similarity between their personal popularity and that of their governments, in the case of the current Mexican president that does not materialize. This confirms what we all know: the President enjoys inalterable support from a political base that has placed its expectations and beliefs in the individual. No one knows how this phenomenon will evolve but, beyond the hard-core believer base (around 16 million voters to judge by the recall election), the rest presumably will go along with the results that the administration generates in the upcoming two years and with the inexorable process of succession, which will focus on the electorate on what was not done or accomplished. Transfers to clienteles will doubtlessly help, but they will go hand in hand with the political cycle.

All of which brings us back to the dilemma posed by Koestler nearly a century ago: when revolutionary fervor comes up against the reality of power, what remains is a government that did not think to sow the seeds of a better future, which in turn sealed its fate in three exorbitantly priced projects without greater viability and little impact on growth, inequality or poverty and that wagered on the personality of the president rather than on improving peoples’ daily lives. Nothing describes it better than the president’s incapacity to recognize that the corruption corroding his own government -in no way distinct from that of the past- cannot be swept under the rug.

At the end of the day, the malady of all Mexican governments, independently of their party, efficacy or popularity, is one and the same: they all consider themselves untouchable and unaccountable, until the succession arrives, and the true accountability is set into motion. The political cycle not only pertains to the government: it also pertains to its personages, all of whom become arrogant, go deaf and are blind to what from the outside is evident, but ceases being so once inside the apparatus as the sensation of power become addictive. When that process takes shape, nothing stands in its way and all the rulers and their functionaries end up suffering from it.

Mexico is about to embark upon the descending cycle of the present government and there is no human power that can stop or impede it, even though from the summit of power things are beheld as brilliant or impeccable. The hows remain to be elucidated, but the whats are clear not just because I say so, but because that’s how all governments are:  the wear and tear is natural and uncontainable.

The art of statesmanship, wrote Talleyrand, foresees the inevitable and expedites its occurrence. The greater part of Mexican presidents, despite their greed for power, knew that this ends and that then everything changes. Not so President López Obrador, for whom the exit from power will therefore be so much more complex.