39. When the opposition becomes only opposition

This essay explains why it is bad for democracy that almost the entire center and right flank of Mexican representatives are being transformed into a homogenous group of opposition, and only opposition.

Much has been written about the need of a strong opposition, and their function in checking and challenging those in power. Yet given those in power have a majority, there is even more need for a plural and active political sphere in which reflection on alternatives can happen. This text explains why these two separate functions of political parties are at risk of collision. The opposition parties are destroying themselves by increasingly solely focusing on going against the 4T, blurring out their own identities, values and agendas. This will lead to a situation where you have the three parties that support the 4T, which still retain their differences, and a group whose sole identity is doing the opposite of the first. One could criticize that within the populist movement of the 4T the adoration of the president also has a homogenizing effect on militants, but at least they known that they support a real project. The opposition is becoming just the shadow.

Let us start with a small, but significant case: the attempt of the opposition, led by PRD, to annul the revocation of the mandate. There is a good debate to be had about the merits of the revocation itself. I myself have always been critical of the current version which required 50% to revoke, and would have preferred a 65% majority. This way we could still get rid of truly hated presidents like Pena Nieto, while keeping more stability. Yet what is the use of trying to annul a revocation in which the president won with more than 90% of the vote, but that would be annulled anyway for not reaching 40% participation? Not to do it again, since the opposition boycotted the event in the first place. Not to save money, as this costs even more. Not to cancel the result, since the outcome is that nothing changes and thus annulling or accepting have the same effect. What does it mean that a party like the PRD, which is supposed to be the ‘left alternative’, makes this most useless and petty fight their fight? In my view, that they have no ideology left to defend. What is the future of such a party? Of the very few people that I  – a politics professor that daily discusses politics – have ever met that recently voted PRD did so because they wanted to vote against Morena, but despised the PRI and PAN.  

    We have to understand to loss of identity of parties like the PRD within the broader context of the Va Por Mexico coalition. Va Por Mexico is the grouping of three old rivaling parties under the external leadership of the capitalist class. This is not a metaphor or dramatic statement, but the very structure of the vehicle: a platform literally led by the son of a billionaire and the (former) head of the employers union. Sure, there is the very thin mask of ‘civil society’, but not even their own mothers believe this. In most countries the control of the capitalist class over politics is indirect or hidden (thus powerful) using complex systems of campaign contributions and lobbying, but somehow in Mexico this is open and plain. And yet this doesn’t cause widespread concern. Nor the fact that the vast majority of twitter activity related to opposition messages are bots, illustrating that this ‘movement’ is mostly sustained by money, not ideas.

    One of the evident consequences of this particular construction is the loss of identity and blurring of distinctions of those involved, who are historical enemies. When the reason of existence is to defend private interests against certain changes, the program is limited to opposing those changing. This is somewhat less hurtful to the PAN, since this is their historical identity as conservatives, but for the other parties it could be devastating. Until the vote on the energy reform, I considered MC to be a genuinely different force, able to occupy the center. Their potential absorption into the group of Claudio X Gonzalez would not only be a massive strategic mistake, but also a historical blow to plurality in Mexican politics.

    One could argue that I am too kind to the opposition, and that their internal diversity never existed in the first place. While the simulation of opposition certainly was a reality and PRIAN has been ruling in coalition for decades, in my analysis the denial of (at least historical) ideologies is too much of a generalization, and itself part of anti-politics. Let us just look at the difference between politicians with executive roles (governors, majors, etc.) and the legislators. On the one hand, many PRI (and PAN, MC) governors retain somehow of an independent profile. Interestingly, the most independent of them in general have been more collaborative with the federal government, perhaps because (electoral) reason and responsibility overcame tribalism. The lawmakers on the other hand, bear no responsibility and seem to exists merely to oppose. The fact that most of them are lawyers doesn’t help in shaking the habit of defending a client regardless of personal considerations.

    Besides killing diversity, this opposing to oppose overrides the function that these parties might offer in stimulating public debate on political issues and alternatives. The incoherence of the message against the energy reform after Morena accepted most suggestions made this clear, with each party contributing half-arguments. Arguments against the Tren Maya now include magical thought such as that it would change the color of the sea. Let us not forget that recent contributions to the nation of PRIANRD include the production of a lego set of the house AMLO’s son never-owned-but-rented.     

    While we can laugh at these examples, we should only do so not to cry. If I was a voter that wanted an alternative to the 4T, I would have no clue about what this plan B is going to look like. I might have heard a vague story of restoring a ‘state of law’ – which apparently refers to the Calderon/EPN era – but what exactly will this do for me? If you are one of these voters, you should seriously ask yourself if you feel comfortable with writing a blank check to a candidate simply for not being AMLO. Keep in mind that the election cycle itself will automatically ‘get rid’ of AMLO, so what will be done after this rather empty goal is achieved? As somebody who values ambition in politicians, this vagueness seems deeply problematic. Certainly, some documents and manifestos have and will be published, but besides from their usually quite generic content (‘defending democracy’), the fact that they are not used in practice reduces their appeal. Unless. Unless this glaring weakness of the opposition is intentional, and the real plan is such a direct sellout to elite interests that it is deemed not defendable. At least blind hate…blinds.

The problem goes deeper: this reduction of political thought to mere opposition is transferred to its followers and supporters, by which I am now referring to the human ones. I will start by recognizing that many of those people feel that it are the forces of the Left who sparked this division. This blindness certain finds its mirror with some sections of the left, for example I get attacked regularly for being neoliberal by people who only read my titles. Yet I will maintain that each has their own responsibility to react to this in a constructive way. Adults writing about ‘el Kakas’ have little excuses to make for how far the public debate has sunk. The simple ‘it’s from AMLO so it’s bad’ scheme is hindering civil reflection on who policies the nation needs, as well as the class interests behind such policies.

    Why don’t we illustrate my point with an experiment? The next time you get a chance to talk to a ‘resistance’ member, present them a 4T proposal worded in different terms. In many cases, these otherwise reasonable people will make a reasonable assessment (for or against) or the policy when the blinding hate is temporarily misdirected. For example, Jovenes construyendo el futuro (known as ‘apoyar a los ninis’) could be described as a ‘anti youth unemployment’ policy, in ‘the style of Europe’ that ‘creates jobs for those who need it’ by ‘subsidizing companies’. In my experience, I usually end up convincing people of this plan, until their opinion magically changes once they recognize it.

    Recently this blind hate also extends to services and infrastructure, with whole groups of conservatives swearing to never use the new airport or train. This builds on older classist prejudice against public services, but is reaching a dysfunctional character. The experiment described above might seem a bit mean, but it gives us a glimpse at what could be: genuine political debate.

While the opposition parties might be used to doing politics from the shadows, they should not get used to being shadows. Things could be much better. There still is space for multi-party law making. For example PRIAN has at least formerly expressed interest in supporting an policy of unemployment insurance, which the 4T is still missing. Without engaging in technicalities, their proposals are limited compared to those of Morena or my own, but they could be the starting point of debate. Similarly, I congratulate the PAN for their counter proposal to the electoral reform (a topic for another time), which is worth debating. Less Lego, more of this.

    Similarly, it has always been my experience that for example conservatives or liberals have interesting ideas to share, which cannot be just respectfully listened to for the sake of civil virtue, but actually can be agreed with and used. How nice it would be if these good people would participate. Yet unfortunately these conservatives and (neo)liberals have increasingly stopped recognizing and communicating their own ideological stances and values, and instead only oppose.