Joel Lovell’s long profile on the A.C.L.U. in the Age of Trumpism ends with a great quote from the group’s national legal director, David Cole. “I fundamentally believe,” says Cole, “that hope is more the consequence of action than its cause.” Two paragraphs up, Lovell summarizes the first conversation he had with Cole, “just before the inauguration”:
I asked him about what he expected out of the next four years, and I thought he would say that even a court this conservative would provide a bulwark against assaults on the Constitution and civil rights, that it would fully exert the power of its branch. Instead, he said, ‘The courts won’t save us.’ It’s not that they wouldn’t do their jobs. He had faith for the most part that they would. And groups like the A.C.L.U. and others would do their jobs, too. ‘The question is, will the rest of us do ours?’
Since right around Obama’s reelection, I’ve come to believe that the true role of government, its real purpose, is to secure the privileges and property of an elite class. I say “an elite class” because I’m not speaking only of the United States, and the elite class is different in different countries, its members gaining their elite status in various ways. Here in the United States it’s bankers and financiers who control the means of democracy, but in Honduras it’s palm-oil and fast-food magnates; in Mexico it’s telecom monopolists and drug traffickers. Still, since capitalism is the international system, in every country you glance at it’s businessmen who really run the show, and the government, instead of being “for the people,” is actually for the business class.
But don’t to take my word for it. Four years ago a pair of political scientists, one from Princeton and the other from Northwestern, published the results of a study which came just shy of reaching the same conclusion.
Most people, myself included, elected Obama in 2008 under the belief that we live in a democracy, or could live in one if only we elected the right person to lead the country. A lot of us came to the rude realization, however, that ours is not a democracy but a plutocracy, and that no one man or woman could pry the destiny of the nation from the grips of Wall Street. To be fair, Obama’s famous slogan never promised that he could do it alone, only that we could, together. (The Spanish phrase Sí se puede, from which the Obama campaign got its rallying cry, literally means “Yes, it can (be done),” which, while more honest, isn’t nearly as inspiring.)
Mexico seems to be having its own Obama moment right now, in the wake of an overwhelming electoral victory by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the left-leaning firebrand and former mayor of Mexico City, who ran as the agent of change in this year’s presidential election. Many Mexicans at home and abroad seem ecstatic at the mere possibility for renewal in a country long-since plagued by corruption and crime; then again, of course, some Mexicans are very worried. In the months leading up to the election, as poll after poll showed AMLO’s lead increasing, Mexican stocks took some hits and the peso weakened, losing more than half a point when AMLO’s win was announced.
Yet, even before the election two Sundays ago, López Obrador met with Mexico’s leaders to assuage their fears that he and the MORENA party were bringing a revolution, or even a few drastic reforms. “We are going to have a cooperative relationship between the private and public sectors,” the then candidate told reporters after his powwow with the Consejo Mexicano de Negocios last week. AMLO’s overtures to Mexico’s elite class and the status didn’t end on Election Night either. As the Washington Post reported:
After meeting with [incumbent President] Peña Nieto, the president-elect said that his administration would respect the independence of Mexico’s central bank and would not be seizing any private property. Mexico’s trade-focused and business-friendly macroeconomic policies would continue, he said.
‘We have to agree on many issues,’ López Obrador said of Peña Nieto, who leaves office Dec. 1. ‘That there are no shocks, that there is confidence in economic and financial matters. Above all, that peace and tranquility be guaranteed in this transition period.’
It seems the president-elect, months before he’s to take the oath of office, is already ditching his main campaign promise. As a surgeon and AMLO supporter explained to the Post, “His program isn’t to make revolution … It’s to allow people to hope again.” I, for one, don’t see how someone could offer hope to the Mexican people without promising them at least a little revolution; without vowing to undo the plutocratic narco-state that is the Mexican government and replace it with something much more democratic, perhaps a little cardenista, maybe even something outright socialist. That’s what Mexican society truly needs, not a few tweaks here and there.
And so, as it was with the people of the United States back in the early days of the Obama presidency, it will be up to the people of Mexico to make sure that their new president isn’t merely another figurehead for progress but the voice of a movement seeking to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” shall exist somewhere on this earth. Or, to complete the quote from Mr. Cole, “It seems to me you have two choices in this life, you can be a fatalistic spectator, or you can engage and produce hope. If those are the two choices, there is really only one choice.”
Featured image: Javier Armas/Flickr