The attack on the U.S. Capitol was like a piercing alarm clock waking us up from a deep sleep, when we are already running late. Donald Trump and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) were not the cause but the consequence of appalling political conditions. But still, they both managed to make their countries’ situations even worse while strengthening themselves along the way. The terrifying parallels between Trump and AMLO have become increasingly evident. They are both resentful authoritarian narcissists, hostile to science and knowledge; ignorant demagogues unable to spouse a constructive ideology since their vision ends where the mirror begins; cunning tricksters who use lies without a trace of contrition to hide an inconvenient reality; men unable to recognize mistakes and willing to destroy any institutional foundation even if the country collapses; leaders with no interest in governing who see the presidency only as a tool to consolidate their power; implacable enemies of democratic checks and balances and of those who question them; men with great sensitivity to identify frustration and resentment in their electoral base and with no shame to stoke it; politicians who love clouding the facts with imaginary conspiracies using ‘alternative facts’ and constructing real or whimsical enemies. In sum, Trump and AMLO are two people skilled in transforming a crack into a crater.
The attack against the U.S. Capitol shows what happens when politicians perpetuate lies instead of condemning them. The world saw what happens when powerful businessmen and the media play along people like Trump -who should have never reached leadership positions- with the hope of benefiting themselves or for fear of losing privileges.
Trump ruined the credibility of U.S. democracy by questioning the legitimacy of his successor.
Spousing endless lies, Trump constructed the devious narrative of a plot to steal from him the presidential election, even when this argument didn’t have the slightest basis. This way, he managed to mobilize his political base and convinced the most radicals that they were defending U.S. democracy when they stormed the Capitol. In reality, they did the opposite: Trump’s supporters tore democracy apart.
Similarly, AMLO destructed the foundations of Mexican democracy when he contested the results of the 2006 presidential election. Democracy demands that the loser at the polls abides by the rules and acknowledges defeat. AMLO never has. Failure to recognize the results of elections nullifies democracy; it fosters hatred, breeds polarization, and justifies that the “victims” of fraud no longer abide by the rules.
Trump was the worst president in U.S. history. His grotesque legacy survives him even it has been widely questioned. Trump was unsuccessful in his efforts to subvert U.S. democracy because institutions prevailed in the end. Important Republican leaders (finally) stopped supporting him and the media took the megaphone from his “little hands”. In Mexico, it doesn’t seem we will be that lucky.
AMLO’s party president, Mario Delgado, understands very well the enormous danger of erasing democratic checks and balances. However, Delgado is an accomplice to AMLO’s ambitions motivated by the petty illusion that the destruction of Mexican institutions is a reasonable cost for his own benefit. Delgado will justify his indecent behavior saying that he risks irking the party’s base. In reality, Delgado could be a force of moderation, influencing his party membership by telling them the truth and exercising good sense.
Mexico could be lost if AMLO manages to destroy the government’s independent agencies. Since its foundation, the antitrust agency (COFECE) has done nothing more than protecting Mexican consumers. AMLO’s idea to disband Mexico’s government transparency agency (INAI) arguing that it is too costly is the epitome of cynicism. AMLO will spend twice INAI’s annual budget in promoting baseball during his six-year term. AMLO transfers every day an equivalent sum of money to state-owned oil company (PEMEX).
The Washington Post’s motto is: “Democracy dies in darkness”. AMLO is an expert in turning off, one by one, every lights. Despite claiming to fight corruption, eight in ten government contracts during AMLO’s administration are no-bid contracts. Like he did back when he was Mayor of Mexico City, AMLO has decided to withhold information on important budget items like the cost of the coronavirus vaccines, PEMEX’s large projects, the cost of the Mexican National Guard barracks, and on important legal affairs like the case against General Salvador Cienfuegos.
When political leaders have nothing to show off, they opt to darken everything. They prefer to shine a light on an alternative reality. They prefer to talk about the past rather than of the shameful performance of their government in the present. AMLO will pull the black curtain. AMLO does not need for his base to storm the Mexican Congress because thanks to unworthy politicians and sycophant media, the Mexicans’ silence and indifference guarantees that he will achieve his goal.
* 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