Conflict is the essence of politics, since it is politics that allows for conflict to be addressed and processed. The most fundamental difference between societies facing conflict lies in how they resolve it, not in the very fact of its existence. Last week, Washington showcased the two sides of conflict: explosion and resolution. “The measure of a country,” wrote John Kampfner, “is not the difficulties it faces, but how it surmounts them.” How do Mexicans live up to that measure?
Trump was never a normal president. Since his presidential campaign, he has shown himself to be a challenger of established norms and institutions. He’s recently dedicated himself to denying the electoral outcome, mobilizing his followers to attempt to force a change in the result, even inciting them to forcibly take control of the U.S. Congress, an institution which, with grandiloquence, has come to be referred to as the “sanctuary of democracy.” In doing so, Trump broke with the essence of democratic politics, which starts from the principle that all participants accept the rules of the game. Like Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Trump only accepts rules that favor him—and yet, the chaos Trump provoked in the U.S. Capitol did not last more than a few hours. By the following morning, Joe Biden had been formally declared president-elect, and numerous news outlets, including many favorable to Trump, had called for his resignation.
Behaving like a vulgar, Third World strongman who privileges loyalty above all, Trump surely envisioned that his party and the people he had nominated or supported for various positions would come to his rescue. In recent weeks, what has been shocking—though normal in a country with strong institutions that transcend the individuals who inhabit them—is the way conflict has been processed and eventually surpassed.
The list of those who worked to nullify Trump’s legal and political challenges is revealing insofar as it was mostly Republicans who put an end to Trump’s pipe dreams and malicious tactics. It was largely Trump-appointed judges who rejected his attempts to eliminate votes state-by-state through the courts. It was Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices (on whom Trump presumably pinned his hopes for protection) who rejected his calls for salvation. It was the Trump-backed Republican governor of Georgia who refused to be cowered by the president’s’s pressure. It was the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who opposed the maneuvers that Trump demanded to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory. It was Tom Cotton, one of the most hard-core Trumpists, who openly condemned Trump’s actions, perhaps indicating that, once he leaves, Trump will not be as threatening to Republicans as many imagine. And finally, it was Vice President Pence, perhaps the most submissive and loyal of Trump’s collaborators, who adhered to the constitutional rule that put the last nail in the coffin of Trump’s presidency. To end the violent attack against the Capitol, police and the National Guard did not hesitate to fulfill their responsibility to restore order, thus allowing the legislative process to proceed.
In the U.S. electoral process, noisy and conflictive like few others, the winners were institutions and all those responsible actors who adhered to the rules of the game, because doing so is the essence of democracy and of their duty. Despite Trump’s pressure and tantrums, even some of his closest allies distanced themselves.
The contrast could hardly be greater: In Mexico, for at least the six years between 2006 and 2012, López Obrador paralyzed Mexican politics and prevented his party, the PRD, from participating in legislative debates. Today, his only mission seems to be eliminating anything that hinders his lust for power, even if doing so implies impoverishing the population, and particularly those who, with their votes, made possible his ascent to the presidency. His collaborators, past and present, have behaved as loyal servants to his cause, never privileging institutions and the greater values of the country’s development. The contrast is striking.
Mexico is about to start an electoral process for the renewal of its federal Chamber of Deputies, 15 state governorships and hundreds of municipalities and local legislatures. The president has shown utter disregard for the rules of the game, most of which were tailored-made for him after the 2006 election. He is determined to win the elections at any price, violating all norms and principles, not only of democracy, but also of fundamental civility. It is no longer just—as AMLO famously said after losing the presidential election in 2006—“to hell with your institutions”: now, it is to hell with the country.
It’s reminiscent of former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s phrase: “All under heaven is great chaos. The situation is excellent.” López Obrador first causes chaos and then turns it into opportunity. Unfortunately, in contrast to our northern neighbors, in Mexico there are no institutions that can resist the pounding and not enough officials who are willing to hold them up. López Obrador has Mexico on tenterhooks. Trump tried a similar course, but U.S. institutions blocked him. There is a huge difference.
* Luis Rubio is chairman of México Evalúa-CIDAC and former chairman of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @lrubiof