According to Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to destroy and a time to build… a time to tear and a time to mend… a time for war and a time for peace.” The pertinent question for Mexico is which of those ways of going forward have characterized the president. While alternatives have existed, he has done more to destroy, divide and attack than to build, mend and pacify. Nothing indicates that his nature will change from here to the end of the administration. Statesman or prophet?
Statesmen, says Kissinger, understand that a couple of essential tasks must be developed: preserving the integrity of their society, driving change and progress while preserving the essence; and attenuating visionary attitudes with caution. Statemen tend to be conscious of the myriad hopes that have been dashed, the good intentions that have not been achieved and the dogged persistence in human affairs of egoism, the thirst for power and the violence. For their part, prophets set out from imperatives: “prophetic leaders invoke their transcendent visions as proof of their righteousness.” Believers in ultimate solutions, “prophetic leaders tend to distrust gradualism as an unnecessary concession to time and circumstance; their goal is to transcend, rather than manage, the status quo.” Among the former, states Kissinger, are Atatürk, Roosevelt and Nehru; typical of the latter are Robespierre, Lenin and Gandhi.
Where will Mexico be at the end of the López Obrador six year term? Six years of systemic battering, relentless destruction and polarization as a strategy will leave the country divided, in permanent struggle and without a natural sequence to follow. Worse, the fiscal situation in which the outgoing government will leave the country will oblige the successor to confront an inexorable reality: the Treasury will have been drained, perhaps not by corrupt functionaries (although there are also plenty of those), but instead by means of a systematic diversion of the funds of the elemental governmental functions (such as health, education and security) to Pharaonic projects and, above all, to the president’s pet clienteles. An empty Treasury vault and one without a future will obligate a revision of everything, beginning with the ruinous dogmas that comprised the sum and substance of the current government.
Six years of a prophet certain of his probity, but without the least concern for the daily problems that the citizenry bewailed (such as employment, security and incomes) will have left the country on the brink of bankruptcy and with few options for forging ahead. While the president’s popularity may have been high, this has been a reflection of the person’s nature and of the media–narrative success of his master plan, but not of a capable government and one accomplished at attending to the immediate needs of the country or setting in place the structures and institutions that would foster long-term development. The prophet incapable of discerning the circumstances of the country, the world or the citizenry.
Precisely when Mexico necessitated the presence of a statesman with a clear vision of the future, accompanied by solid centering on the reality of the country and of the world of the time, AMLO arrived on the presidential scenario with far-ranging popular backing, but without a grasp of (or interest in) the circumstances of the moment. Convinced of the probity of his vision, the president ignored the rationale -correct or incorrect, but not dishonest- that had urged on his predecessors, to tear down everything that existed. Rather than the purported “new” regime, he leaves a nation bereft of opportunities and engulfed in contradictions.
There will come a new government that will have no better alternative than to begin to work the soil from zero. Some are concerned that a Morena government will persist, others fear that someone different will come, from a party or alliance that is today in the opposition. The truth is that, come what may, the problems that will confront the new president, man or woman, will be enormous. After decades of building fiscal structures designed to confer stability on the economy, the president has wagered on things turning out well on their own. Why save during the years of plenty if, with luck, the lean years will never present? He sapped the coffers and trust funds, wiped out institutions, violated all sorts of legal and regulatory precepts to finance his popularity. The mark of a prophet, not of a statesman.
Leadership, to be sustained and effective, must be greater than personal ambition. The challenges accosting Mexico and Mexicans are incommensurable and do not improve by financing the deficits of companies such as Pemex or the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), which are going nowhere, and they are much less resolved with transfers to a resentful and desperate population that requires instruments for transforming itself and going forward, as well as opportunities to grow and form part of the development. These six years will have come to be a great waste not only because of the annihilation of possibilities, but also above all because of the creation of myths that will render the task difficult for whomever comes in 2024.
Herbert Stein, a famous economist, coined a law of economic stability that bears his name and that describes toward what Mexico is going: “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The world of fantasy that the president imagined and to which he devoted huge resources is not sustainable, which is why it cannot go on. Regardless of who comes next, the task-at-hand will begin by chipping stone.