In “The Seventh Seal”, a 1957 film by Ingmar Bergman, a knight returns from the Crusades to find his homeland ravaged by the plague. Suffering and devastation had shaken his faith in God. When Death comes for him, the crusader proposes a game of chess to eke out enough time to commit an act—any act—that might bring meaning amid the pestilence.
Mexico has lived with a stink for years, which has left no one satisfied: neither those who benefitted nor those who felt infringed upon. The demand grew to furnish meaning and transcendence in view of that feeling of uneasiness, but also of the systematic growth of the middle class. The breeding ground was ready for a shakeup. The 2018 election represented a break with the restive years and, we now know, also with the advances that had been achieved.
There are at least three indisputable factors in what happened in those elections: first, the country had been undergoing for nearly three decades profound changes that had improved innumerable factors, but that had not resolved fundamental problems that had been dragging on, such as insecurity, corruption, poverty and inequality. Many indices have improved, but the quality of the governance, at all levels, has waned and no government at least since the eighties, when those reforms began, had the capacity or disposition to propose and advance integral solutions regarding these circumstances. The improvement was notable, but also the lags, above all because they affected an enormous portion of the citizenry.
A second factor, the proverbial straw that broke the camel´s back, was the prodigious incompetence and corruption that characterized the administration of Peña Nieto. A president who won in 2012 due to his skill in communicating capacity of execution, he resulted absolutely ignorant about the circumstances in which the country lived, of the outcry for solutions and the eagerness for clear headed leadership. That president grasped the need to finalize the reforms that impeded the attainment of the objectives, at least in the economy, of the reformer project from the eighties on, but was incapable of getting the population behind them. Paradoxically for a purely political president, his acting was absolutely technocratic, nearly sterile, in terms of how he advanced reforms of huge political transcendence, disrupting sacrosanct constitutional articles. In addition, envisioning himself in another era of history, he could not realize or acknowledge that the old political ways, and the corruption that accompanied them, were unsustainable in the era of social media. It could almost be said that he conscientiously dedicated himself to setting the stage for his successor and, with his response to the Ayotzinapa murders (2014), to guarantee the triumph of López Obrador.
The third factor was the perennial candidate who had for two decades criticized the reformer project, fueling the resentment and providing a means of expression to all the unrest and despair that had been accumulating for centuries and that had been exacerbated by the reforms he denominated “neoliberal.” His discourse and his person had acquired moral authority on his expressing the turmoil that had overtaken many Mexicans. After two defeats, he arrived at the presidency with the table set by his predecessor, who seemed to have mapped out his script expressly to match the call to arms of today’s president.
On being in the government, the president has proven to be a native PRIist. Very much in the style of his predecessors, he has devoted himself to reconstructing the old presidency, though with a bias not at all PRIist: his deep rejection of any institutional sense. The authority of the person of the president is sufficient to resolve the problems afflicting the country, all these the product of the lack of will of his forerunners. It is not necessary to fix the problems that he promised: attacking his adversaries will cover the record. The results to date speak for themselves and are manifested in the brutal contrast between the president’s popularity and the rebuke typifying his government. The president retains his credibility as a person, but not due to the performance of his administration.
The mismatch is obvious, particularly among the middle classes, that is, the great achievement of the PRI era, which was not modified one bit during the two administrations of the PAN. The objective of the postrevolutionary regime had consisted of development with stability, the latter based on a growing and increasingly affluent middle class. That middle class, disenchanted by the unequalness and corruption of the last decades, mutated toward López Obrador in 2018 in a virtual uprising. It is paradoxical that an electorate worn out by so many unfulfilled promises would usher into power a president rabidly opposed to the very idea of consolidating the middle class. Disparate partners, unsustainable alliance.
Now that the end of this administration is approaching, everything is up for grabs. The coalition -formal and informal- that seconded the president in his election of 2018 is fragmented, as illustrated by the result of the referendum on the President back in April, when AMLO obtained half of the votes than in his original election. Absolute power demoralizes, wrote Lord Acton. Mexicans live this every day.