7. On kitsch and elite amateurism in popular politics

While having advantages in terms of funding and elite support, neoliberal politicians are rarely good at actually mobilizing people. This is evident in the amateurish attempts of Mexico’s right wing opposition to organize popular resistance against the president. I will claim this is connected to the failure of national elites in understanding a) how to connect with real concerns of people, b) broader international politics. This is the most evident with the new leadership of the PAN, which pays homage to the old archetype of the wizard-apprentice…of popular politics.

Let us start with the fact that until the ‘march against AMLO’ of May 5th, the PAN or their subsidiary groups have never mobilized more people than Morena has elected representatives. Let that sink in.  High flyers include the absurd attempt to blindly copy the French ‘yellow shirts’ movement on diesel taxes, of which the leader proudly proclaimed that after AMLO’s first 100 days they had ‘one member for each day’. And when they did finally gather a few thousand people (many times less than any counter protest in recent history), it was unclear to commentators what actual societal circumstances they protested. Turns out it was exactly what it looked like: an outrageously anti-democratic demand for the resignation of a newly elected president with a popularity rate between 60 and 86%. At the end of the day, the PAN is simply protesting the very fact that they lost through open elections. Aristoteles already noted how insulting democracy (‘rule of the poor’) can be to the sensitivities of privileged elites. How dare AMLO break the tradition, started with Miguel de la Madrid, of elections being won/stolen by foreign educated elites?

Time for analysis – why is this happening? It is true that socialists are typically better in mobilizing numbers, but the right wing is not inherently devoid of populist politics. Nationalists and fascists such as Trump do rather well despite pushing similar capitalist elite agendas. Other neoliberals don’t fail because they never try to play this game in the first place, instead sticking to their strengths. Although they can be hard to distinguish, even the PRI is better in picking their battles by only pushing for politization on topics that actually sting, like the linear cuts in civil society funding.

We could start understanding this amateurism in popular politics by borrowing from the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In his work on Distinction he explains that elites typically try to distinct themselves from the interests and sensitivities of lower social classes. To achieve upwards social mobility (or consolidate inequality) one is typically interested in acquiring only ‘cultural capital’ of higher groups, often while making fun of those ‘amateurs’ from lower classes who try to meddle with ‘higher’ cultural tastes. Similarly, anthropologist David Graeber[1] uses the concept of ‘lopsided structures of imagination’, referring to the fact that those in power typically put (and have to put) much less effort in understanding those depending on them. Translated to the world of politics, relationships of patronage help elites to rule the masses without having to understand them – as long as they have the power.

But now they don’t. Not only do they have to fight from the opposition, they have to do so by winning back a working class majority in whom they never showed interest. If the PAN wants to keep walking the path of popular resistance (which I advise them not to), they will need to connect to real concerns of people to avoid the marchas fifi being fifi.  The amateurism of not knowing which button to press is evident from two things: 1) that they scandalize everything in trial and error fashion. This ranges from critiquing the president for wearing old shoes or having ‘bad taste’, to crying wolf over reelection[2] while he attempts to reduce his term. 2) They try to copycat issues that work elsewhere. This is best seen in the case of the Yellow Shirts, which is a Frankenstein attempt to give life to a French gas price movement, despite that our diesel taxes are far lower (40 vs 63%).

The urge to imitate what others are doing is most evident when it comes to international relations. Sometimes this is amusing, as with Samuel Garcia’s vacation videos on how oil is cheaper in Quatar (he should visit Venezuela!). But it takes tragic proportions in the case PAN’s new leader, Marko Cortés Mendoza. His alienation manifest itself in the painful illusion that he is the Mexican Juan Guaido (who himself failed in rousing popular uprising in Venezuela). This led him to seek international intervention to aid his empty cause of making the president resign. Consider for example his ‘rebel leader’ video of 18 March to the international community asking for support to stop the authoritarian regime of AMLO. Or what to think of his petition on March 29 to the Organization of American States warning for the impeding dictatorship?[3]

 These are ridiculous for multiple reasons. First, his argument resolves around the accusation that AMLO would seek reelection. Besides this being objectively false, the wizard apprentice fails to realize that most democracies on earth allow reelection, including Canada, United States (!), Brazil, France, Germany, United Kingdom or any of the countries he looks at for help. Or did he expect Trump to forfeit his own reelection for the cause? Second, the parallel he seeks to draw with Venezuela ironically only makes sense for AMLO’s 2006 fight (which actually mobilized millions) against the suspicious election of PAN’s own candidate. While AMLO actually won with a comfortable >53% as the challenger, Calderon as the candidate of the sitting party won with the smallest electoral base in history (35,9%) and less than half a percent margin. Third, because calling for international action is fruitless without visible national mobilization. This is not what these mechanisms exist for, and Mexico is internationally simply not perceived as being in crisis or sliding towards dictatorship. Hiring a crowd to boo during a baseball game won’t change that.

None of this means that the long term tactic of the PAN to throw things until one sticks cannot work. The assurance of funding and cover from capitalist elites allows them to play a war of attrition other parties cannot afford, since their voice is not dependent on real political power or membership (like the PRI), but on representing these interests. Given these interests don’t resolve around a particular issue but are rooted in permanent class warfare, they won’t run dry. They can hire who they can’t mobilize. And fake news in tandem with repeating over and over again that everything the new authoritarian government does is an abyssal failure can shape long term perceptions. Plus, I must of course recognize that there is a considerable minority (you!) that agrees with the general sentiment of opposing AMLO. But they won’t go out and protest for it. Nor will the U.N. intervene to defeat fictional dictatorships. 

Conservatives deserve better than Marko Cortés. I advise the PAN to stop pretending they are a popular party and trying to beat Andres ‘I am the taco stand’ Manuel at his own street game. They should a) stick to their lane of producing educated, well-spoken candidates like Ricardo Anaya; b) identify a limited number of issues to fight on; c) stop the malinchista attitude of looking at the gringo’s for help. And for the sake of the country, stop raising hate towards policies that actually help people. Classism is a tool to keep, not to acquire power.   

[1] https://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau2.2.007

[2] Including the impressive protest of forty people of a subsidiary group https://www.informador.mx/jalisco/XiudadanosMx-exigen-que-Lopez-Obrador-no-se-reelija-20190328-0174.html

[3] https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/pan-alerta-ante-la-oea-posible-reeleccion-de-amlo