“Distance -wrote Samuel Johnson- has the same effect on the mind as on the eye, and while we glide along the stream of time, whatever we leave behind is always lessening, and that which we approach increasing in magnitude”. The times change and the realities do also; what was valid before stops being so because the only thing that does not cease is the inexorable march of time and, with that, the expectations: those fulfilled as well as those destroyed. Usually, the latter to a more prominent degree than the former.
I wrote some time ago that, without politics, the great changes that the country had undergone during the last half century were vulnerable because, especially in the government of Peña Nieto, the reforms had been imposed instead of socialized. Rather than being assigned the role of protagonist, the population was relegated to a position outside the arena and without a ticket to ride. The legal framework was altered without our beloved politicians explaining the what and why or grasping the importance of persuading the citizenry. Without legitimacy, Peña’s reforms ended up victims of a barrage of volleys from the Morena party, whose rationale is not the development of the country, but to exact the control of everything, from the economy to the society.
Rightly, Macario Schettino wrote me that the NAFTA was a counterexample: “It was also promoted and approved in 1994 without asking, by the PRI/PAN (PRIAN) alliance, against that of PRI/Morena (PRIMOR), but by 1997 the population had already accepted it.” The point is crucial and merits a more wide-reaching explanation since it reveals the citizenry’s wisdom and maturity.
There is no doubt that the first wave of reforms, in the eighties and nineties, was indeed levied on the society: from the liberalization of imports to the privatizations, the government acted under an economic rationality that entertained great internal coherence, but its crux did not lie in its willingness to spell it out in the public forums. Although the earlier breed of technocrats were much less arrogant than those of the Peña administration, their attitude was that it was enough to be right in the technical sense for public policy to become reality. Nor do I have any doubt that, had they sought public support, they would have avoided many of the errors of that moment and, much more transcendentally, the technocrats themselves would have been able to count with the popular favor to affect interests that later hindered and, in many cases, thwarted the success of their reforms.
One must remember how the times have changed: in the eighties and nineties the PRI was hegemonic, there were no social networks, and the country suffered a devastating crisis after the “Tragic Dozen” years (1970-1982). In that epoch no one was consulted about anything and Congress, as in the last three years, was nothing more than the president’s rubber-stamping office. Salinas procured the support of the PAN to win over legitimacy from it for his reforms despite not requiring this legitimacy legally: he did this because he realized the political transcendence of conferring permanence on his reforms. That was never appreciated by Peña Nieto, who lived at a radically different time, one of permanent public debates and with AMLO at his heels.
The case of the NAFTA is peculiar because the citizenry saw it for what it was: a guarantee of long-term change. Salinas was not navigating in the dark: the surveys told him that more than half of the population had some direct relative in the United States. NAFTA was recognized as a way of accepting that adopting the rules of the game inherent to the U.S. would be of benefit to the country, as they had become for their family members who had emigrated. The popularity of the instrument enjoys strong roots and, therefore, full legitimacy.
The leading mistake of the previous government was to ignore the transcendence of socializing and achieving legitimacy for its projects. Governing is not an act of will but one of uniting wills. When the population makes a project its own, it becomes invulnerable, as occurs with the electoral institutions or the NAFTA Itself. An informed and respected population understands the vicissitudes of reality, in the good times and the bad. Just to illustrate, a sudden rise in gasoline prices is comprehensible and comprehended by those who are not hoodwinked all the time.
Contrariwise, Jorge Fernández Díaz writes, “populism is reserved solely for the good news and any sacrifice is inadmissible to it, given that it renders the ‘happiness of the people’ vulnerable. This cowardly and mediocre hypocrisy, and this vicious circle, are the chief reasons for our recurrent calamity.”
A half century ago the function of a president was to exercise leadership and that was what engendered the reforms from then on. “In times of the revolution of expectations, says David Konzevik, the president must be the Master of Hope.” There’s no secret in this: the era of ubiquity of information makes it much more difficult to govern (in any country) as the key to success dwells on convincing the people, and that calls for respect. AMLO communicates dogmas, which does not lend itself to convincing, because this is not even the objective.
The nostalgia of López Obrador will not extract the country from the hole in which it finds itself. García Márquez wrote: “As always happens, we thought then that we are very far from being happy, and now we think the opposite. This is the trap of nostalgia, which plucks out the bitter moments from their place, paints them another hue and puts them back where they no longer hurt.”
There is no other way than straight ahead.