Whoever is reading this opinion piece probably thinks more or less like me. It’s logical. The problem is that we are increasingly trapped in social-media echo chambers where we deafen ourselves. This noisy babble grows hand-in-hand with increasingly effective algorithms feeding us content reinforcing what we already think. It doesn’t matter how detached from reality we may be.
In the United States, for example, those who watch Fox News, read the Wall Street Journal and listen to conservative podcasts do not understand why those who watch CNN, read the New York Times and listen to liberals reject Donald Trump. For the former group, Trump’s success is as “obvious” as for the latter is their certainty of the president’s failure. In Mexican politics, the same logic applies. Whoever reads La Jornada newspaper believes that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is not doing badly, while the reader of Reforma feels we are sitting on the edge of an abyss.
The problem is that the more concerns we have regarding the mental health and intelligence of those with whom we disagree, the more willing we are to justify taking extreme actions -including illegal ones- to stop someone who we think is “obviously” wrong. Thus, the gap between both sides grows until it becomes irreconcilable. Reason has been displaced by visceral reaction.
We are way over our heads when FRENA, a middle-class protest movement (not particularly large), takes to the streets of Mexico demanding the resignation of a president like AMLO who swept the 2018 election and who maintains the support of the majority of Mexicans. Their request is not only absurd, it is arrogant and dangerously undemocratic.
Do we want to remove AMLO from office? Let’s do it by uniting ourselves. Let’s get organized. Let’s beat him at the polls. This is how democracy works. Everyone has the right to protest. But banging pots and pans, while sitting inside a car -a form of protest known in Spanish as ‘cacerolismo’-, underlines that we have not processed why AMLO won the 2018 election. From the perspective of an ordinary Mexican citizen who does not own a car and who is having a hard time in this brutal Covid-19 pandemic crisis, the FRENA protests are meaningless. The protests provoke a logical and energetic rejection.
Let’s acknowledge once and for all how detached we are from the dismal reality of millions of Mexicans sunk in poverty, from those who suffer frequent criminal violence, from those who are discriminated against on a daily basis, from those who we refuse to acknowledge except when they have a gun in their hands, from those who don’t dare to dream with their children having opportunities to succeed, from the parents of students in badly ranked public schools that our children don’t attend, or from those who don’t know if they will be able to bring bread to their family or put a roof over their heads.
If we are unable to really comprehend how far removed we are from what ordinary Mexicans are going through, the successor of this flagrantly incompetent administration will be another one equally incompetent. The inequality gap will eventually be bridged because either wealthy Mexicans will migrate, or because they will become impoverished. This atrocious government continues to be the only social movement able to take the streets. It is the only political actor articulating eloquent messages. AMLO continues to be the only one speaking for those Mexicans who are fed up and have lost faith (for good reason). By the way, it may be that many Mexicans tolerate AMLO’s shortcomings because, at least this time, the middle class protesting from their cars is getting a taste of their pain.
Our dissent has to change course and purpose. Our protest should not overwhelm our democracy, which is certainly far from perfect. Our main goal should be to shield democracy, to demand respect for the institutions, for freedom of expression, for the separation of powers, in favor of the autonomous bodies. The protest should focus in discussing serious solutions to Mexico’s problems that will never be solved by the President’s simplistic willfulness.
But above all, we must stop disqualifying those who do not think like us. Let’s understand that the other’s perspective can be utterly different to ours. If we do not learn to respect and communicate with those who see things differently, and find a shared purpose, the opposition to the current government will never again win an election. If we are unable to find common ground, this cruel decline will become permanent.
* Jorge Suárez-Vélez is an economic and political analyst He is the author of The Coming Downturn of the World Economy (Random House 2011). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @jorgesuarezv