Mexico's current leader, and loud-and-proud leftist, has more in common with the outgoing U.S. president, a conservative Republican, than many people realize.
MEXICO CITY — Conflict is essential to politics, and politics, in turn, provide a means for facing, administering and processing that conflict. Societies thus differ fundamentally not in whether they have conflicts, but in how they resolve them.
Days ago, Washington DC became a singular window showing both sides: conflict explosion, and its resolution. As the pressman John Kampfner observes, a country's measure is not in the "difficulties it faces, but how it surmounts them."
So how, then, do we Mexicans fare on that front?
First, a bit about Donald Trump, who was never a normal president. Even before his election he was challenging institutions and the traditional way of doing things. More recently, he simply refused to accept the results of the November presidential elections, and mobilized his followers to forcibly change them. He then incited them to take over Congress, the grandly named "chapel of democracy."
He thus broke with the essence of democratic politics, based on the principle of players accepting the rules of the game. Like our own President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Trump only accepts rules that work in his favor. Yet the chaos his attitude provoked lasted just hours. The morning after the melee in Congress, the Democrat Joe Biden was formally declared president-elect of the United States, and much of the press and other outlets, including those sympathizing with Trump, urged him to resign.
Trump only accepts rules that work in his favor.
Like a Third World strongman who values personal loyalty above all else, Trump must have imagined his party, and the people he had promoted and backed for various positions, would come to his aid. But the most notable aspect of recent events — and an emphatically normal one in any country of solid institutions — was the way conflict was processed to the point of resolution. The list of those gradually neutralizing an array of challenges to the elections is more than revealing, and in the end, it was the Republicans who ended Trump's deluded dreams and malevolent tactics.
It was mostly judges named by Trump who rejected his legal moves to cancel voting results, state by state. Those he had named to the Supreme Court (in whom he was presumably pinning his hopes for protection), rejected his calls for help. The Republican governor of Georgia, whose reelection Trump backed, refused to bow to presidential pressure. The Republican Senate majority leader McConnell refused to maneuver to block Biden's confirmation. Tom Cotton, a veteran Trump supporter (and senator), openly denounced his conduct, suggesting he wouldn't intimidate Republicans quite as much as people imagine, once out of office. And finally, it was Vice-President Mike Pence, perhaps the most docile of his supporters, who struck the last nail in Trump's coffin by sticking to constitutional norms. Police and National guardsmen duly did their duty and ended a clumsy bid to grab the legislature, ensuring the legislative process could resume.
In Mexico the campaigning period for the lower legislature is about to begin — Photo: El Universal via ZUMA Wire
In spite of a bitter campaign, the institutions of the United States triumphed in the last elections, as did all the actors who responsibly followed the rules of a functioning democracy. Trump's tantrums served only to alienate voters.
What a contrast with Mexico. For at least six years, from 2006 to 2012, López Obrador paralyzed Mexican politics and prevented his former party, the leftist PRD, from participating in legislative debates. Today, it seems his only mission is to remove anything that may obstruct his quest for power, even if in doing so, he impoverishes the population and especially hurts the already poor who voted him into office. His collaborators have acted as loyal servitors, before and after his election, never giving priority to institutions or values that serve the country's development.
We are about to begin the campaigning period for the lower legislature, 15 state governorships and hundreds of district and local councils. The president has shown complete indifference to the rules of the game, most of which already seemed crafted to fit his needs. He wants to win in spite of them, whatever the cost, be it basic civility, democracy or even the country itself. He reminds me one of the late Chinese foreign minister Chou En-lai who quipped, "It's chaos everywhere: the situation is excellent."
First provoke the chaos, then milk it for what it's worth. Unfortunately, unlike our northern neighbors, there are no institutions here to resist him nor enough officials to give them added weight. López Obrador has Mexico on tenterhooks. Trump tried the same, but the institutions thwarted him. Not so here, and that, sadly, is what makes all the difference.