Austere Moral Economy

Mexican critics have raised concerns that AMLO and Morena are little more than a recycled PRI, pointing to AMLO’s formative political years and to Morena’s scale of control. What is different about AMLO, however, is his cult of personality and his distaste for the separation of powers.

AMLO’s politics of wanting it, badly

Image via Flickr.

On January 17, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that he was going to raffle off the country’s presidential airplane. López Obrador—better known as AMLO—had been promising to sell the Boeing 787 Dreamliner since the campaign trail. The plane had been acquired by Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s president from 2006 to 2012, and represented, to López Obrador, the elitism and excess of the country’s political elite. He maintains that a poor country cannot have a rich government; along with the presidential airplane, he has shunned presidential bodyguards, saying “el pueblo me protegerá” (the people will protect me), and travels with a security detail of twenty unarmed Mexican citizens.

There was a problem, however: the airplane was leased. AMLO’s incoming government was only responsible for two annual payments. No lucky citizen was going to get a private jumbo jet. Instead, he announced, the commercial value of the plane would be distributed in one hundred prizes of 20 million pesos (1 million dollars) each. The government hired the National Lottery to print 6 million cachitos (lottery tickets), to be sold for 500 pesos ($25) each. Like ordinary lottery tickets, those for the gran sorteo especial are busy with contradictory typefaces, bar codes, and logos, all overlaid on an image of the plane, with its flourish of the Mexican green, white, and red tricolor, on a background of washed-out tarmac.

It seems silly—one more act in a string of populist theatrics; an opportunity for some great memes of government housing with hangars attached. Yet the plane also illustrates AMLO’s larger approach to governing—getting rid of everything that came before him. He has used his anti-corruption, anti-neoliberal, anti-elite stance to initiate austerity programs on a staggering scale, putting longstanding and important social programs on the chopping block at the same time as his erratic economic decisions have slowed Mexico’s economy to the point of contraction. The worst effects of both will be felt by those to whom he claims loyalty—the country’s poor. For AMLO, it appears, civic institutions and the presidential airplane are equally symbols of largesse that needs to be gotten rid of.

The night of July 1, 2018 drew thousands of Mexicans into the streets of the country’s capital to celebrate AMLO’s victory. More people, even, than had come out to celebrate the 2000 victory of Vicente Fox, which had unseated seventy years of rule by Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, by its initials in Spanish), the regime that Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa famously called the “perfect dictatorship.”

AMLO promised something even bigger than a new governing party: real transformation. The PRI, along with Fox’s opposition party that had finally ousted it, the National Action Party (PAN), were both constituted by members of Mexico’s white elite, had both embraced neoliberal free-market politics, and were widely considered to be rife with corruption. For many, the “PRIAN,” as many an internet commenter has it, are only separated from one another by the PAN’s overt Catholicism. AMLO, the son of small-town shopkeepers in the state of Tabasco, rejected that political elite. He promised to fight corruption, to raise salaries and reduce Mexico’s vast wealth inequality, and to end vote buying. Such rhetoric was invigorating. It was easy to agree on corruption, inequality, the negative effects of neoliberalism, and the need for alternatives to the PRI and the PAN.

He didn’t explain exactly how he would achieve his promises—which also included ending the drug war and maintaining an annual economic growth of 4 percent during his sexenio, or six-year term—except to repeat that his anti-corruption initiatives and personal rectitude would resolve everything. But for the majority of Mexican voters, the performative utterances were sufficient. The presidency of incumbent Enrique Peña Nieto, a return to the PRI after the PAN presidencies of Fox and Felipe Calderón, had been marred by corruption scandals, continued cartel violence, and a botched government investigation into the disappearance of forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College.

Now, as the crowds began to fill Mexico’s Centro Histórico, the country’s National Electoral Institute announced that AMLO had prevailed with 53 percent of the vote. The next candidate trailed by thirty points.

Before this landslide victory, AMLO had twice run for president. It’s an open secret that he won in 2006, as the candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD): he held the lead with 97.5 percent of polling stations reporting; with 100 percent reporting, PAN candidate Calderón was declared winner by .58 percent of the vote. Later investigations revealed that at half of the polling places, the starting number of blank ballots did not match the sum of ballots cast plus remaining blank ballots. Although electoral authorities conducted two partial recounts, they refused to release the results to the public.

In protest, AMLO had rallied thousands of supporters to the Zócalo, Mexico City’s central square, where they built encampments that for weeks blocked twelve kilometers of Paseo de la Reforma, one of the busiest streets in Mexico City and the site of much of its financial and business activity. When he did not win the recount, he changed tactics. He assembled a cabinet, donned the traditional tricolor sash, and was sworn in as president of the Legitimate Government of Mexico before a packed Zócalo on November 20, Mexico’s Revolution Day. He began touring Mexico obsessively, eventually visiting all of the country’s 2,446 municipalities.

In 2012, AMLO ran for the PRD again and lost to the PRI’s Peña Nieto by 6.6 percent of the vote. While the margin was likely not close enough to have robbed AMLO of the win a second time, voters protested widespread vote buying, a clear media bias against AMLO, and more instances of the so-called “adding-up problem” from 2006.

When the PRD didn’t want to sponsor AMLO as their presidential candidate a third time, he founded his own political party, El Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional, or MORENA. The party’s name evokes its populism: the word “morena” refers to dark skin, suggesting a coup over Mexico’s light-skinned political class; it is also a reference to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s spiritual patroness. AMLO announced Morena’s creation, first as a cross-party alliance in support of his 2012 candidacy, on October 2, 2011—the anniversary of the PRI’s 1968 massacre of over 400 student protestors at the Tlatelolco housing complex, the event considered to symbolize the Mexican public’s widespread loss of faith in the PRI. The following year, he registered Morena as a civil association on Revolution Day. And as the 2018 elections approached, AMLO presented himself before the National Elections Commission as a pre-candidate on December 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. On election day, not only did AMLO win, but Morena gained control of both branches of Mexico’s Congress.

AMLO and his wife arrived to the Zócalo by chauffeured Suburban. Reveling voters dressed in the national colors and waving Mexican flags thronged the square and the streets surrounding it, chanting, “it’s an honor to stand with Obrador” (which rhymes in Spanish).

The Zócalo itself is symbolic for AMLO. In addition to the 2006 takeover, during his PRI career in his home state of Tabasco, he led multiple marches of Indigenous protestors to the square, and as head of government for Mexico City from 2000 to 2005, he collaborated with then-world’s richest man Carlos Slim to restore it. It felt, in some way, like his turf.

And now the whole country did. He took the stage with both hands raised and promised a “gobierno del pueblo, pa’ el pueblo, y con el pueblo” (a government of the people, for the people, and with the people). He promised to follow three basic principles: not to lie, not to steal, and not to betray the people. To close out the night, he, his wife, and their son each hugged their arms around themselves as the new president told the country: “I don’t have anything more to tell you except to hug you—however much you love me, I love you even a little bit more.”

It felt, if you suspended your disbelief, like something to believe in.

The next morning, I walked to the only coffee shop in my then-neighborhood that opened before 9 AM, a tiny storefront with a poodle painted on the red exterior. Inside, the attempt at Parisian theming continued, alongside wallpaper whose cursive writing spelled coffee again and again. A TV hung in the corner played the World Cup—Mexico lost to Brazil that morning.

The theming, ironically, made some sense: the neighborhood, now in a rapid process of gentrification, had been built upscale in the nineteenth century, with architecture and planning that gestured at French-ness. Over the course of the century that followed, Mexico City’s upper class had moved to newly developed neighborhoods further and further west, leaving the centric districts for the working- and middle-class.

As I waited for my cappuccino, I asked the owner of the shop, a relatively tall woman in her seventies, how she felt about the election results. I was expecting, in miniature, the encomium of the night before.

“I’m not happy about it,” she said. “He’s obsessed with the presidency—he wants it too badly.”

Now, almost two years into AMLO’s presidency, I have thought of that woman frequently, although I live in a different neighborhood and never returned to her café. As AMLO’s so-called “transformation” of Mexico has unfolded, I have wondered if the best way to describe his governance might be hers: a politics of wanting it badly.

Just three weeks after taking office in December 2019, AMLO canceled the New International Airport of Mexico (NAIM), which was under construction on the drained bed of Lake Texcoco, fifteen kilometers northeast of Mexico City’s center. The reason he gave was, of course, corruption under Peña Nieto, whose government had hired dozens of shell companies to whom a sum total on the order of 88 million dollars had been paid. Yet the cancellation left Mexico without a plan to fill a long overdue need: Mexico City’s current airport was built to handle 32 million passengers annually, but, before the pandemic, handled 48 million last year. AMLO’s proposed plan, to expand use of the State of Mexico’s Toluca airport and to retrofit the Santa Lucia military base for civilian use, has been criticized as impossible from practically every possible point of view: logistics, operations, security, airspace, and geology.

As the winter continued, the cancellation proved more and more costly for the country. Not only does the government still have to pay the project’s construction bonds, but the move was also perceived as irrational by investors. Reporters Kirk Semple and Paulina Villegas wrote in the New York Times that the cancellation “sank the peso and the Mexican markets and spread uncertainty among investors and business leaders, who feared Mr. López Obrador would take an arbitrary approach to managing the economy.” Coupled with the fact that AMLO did not invest widely in public infrastructure in the way that investors have come to expect at the beginning of a sexenio, investment and construction slowed, and the country entered its first recession since 2009.

In February 2019, again as an anti-corruption measure, AMLO announced that all government social program funds would be delivered directly to beneficiaries. Instead of daycares and domestic violence shelters, parents and victims were to receive money directly. “No support will be given to any social organization, civil society, or non-governmental organization. Resources for the benefit of people won’t be transferred through intermediaries,” he announced at the day’s mañanera (his morning press conferences that have been called “civic sermons” for their charismatic proselytizing and the way they dodge all but the most softball questions from the press). He explained that funds given to civil organizations had been used for expenses such as paying staff and renting office space, and therefore the resources were not reaching their intended beneficiaries. Parents would now be paid directly—800 pesos (40 dollars) per month per child. Challenged on the decision to close what were seen as necessary institutions, he responded: “Grandparents can help single mothers, let them get help from their parents to look after their children, that’s family.”

Critics within Mexico have pointed out that this looks a lot like PRI clientelism—backdoor vote-buying via the exchange of money, food, or access to social programs. It’s also a common move associated with neoliberalism: the world’s first conditional cash transfer program was “Progresa,” a signature initiative of Ernesto Zedillo, a Yale-trained economist who served as Mexico’s president from 1994 to 2000. Such programs enable the state to decide who among its poor is “deserving,” to effect the “responsibilization” of that population, and to simultaneously generate a dependence on the state while enabling it to cut social programs as part of austerity regimes.

AMLO later enshrined austerity as a central political principle of his administration with the Ley Federal de Austeridad Republicana, which takes as its first objective “to establish republican austerity as a fundamental value and orienting principle of Mexican public service.” The law drastically cut the salaries of high-level bureaucrats, eliminated more than eight thousand public service jobs he considered unnecessary. He has since proposed cutting the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)’s budget by seventy-five percent, and eliminating trusts supporting the National Fund for Culture and Arts and the Film Investment and Stimulus Fund, also under the sign of austerity.

This explicit commitment to austerity is perhaps the hardest aspect of AMLO’s political economy to square, at least for those of us accustomed to seeing the dismantling of welfare programs and the shrinking of government as signal neoliberal transformations. AMLO publicly hates neoliberalism. Even more paradoxically, this spring, AMLO justified cutting all public expenditures except a short list of thirty-eight programs (among them, his signature cash transfers, the new national guard, and oil refinery construction and maintenance) “in conformity with our governing criteria of efficiency, honesty, austerity and justice, and in the face of the world crisis of the neoliberal model.” We have to act more neoliberally, it seems to say, because of neoliberalism.

AMLO’s politics of austerity have to be seen from another perspective. His austerity programs betray a hatred of Mexico’s political class that overwhelms his professed love for the Mexican people. He feels an imperative to undo his predecessors’ work so that “they” can never come back. But where AMLO promised that his government would help the poor, many of his decisions have hurt precisely them, at the same time as his government has sabotaged the country’s economy for everyone.

Morena calls its takeover of Mexico’s government the cuarta transformación, the fourth transformation, or simply 4T. The previous three transformations of Mexico, according to their understanding, are the country’s independence from Spain in 1820, the reforms of Benito Juárez in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920.

The express referent for the 4T’s austerity politics is Juárez, who was president of Mexico from 1858 to 1872, and the country’s first president of indigenous origin. (Not Juárez’s reforms, which limited the role of the church and the army, but him as a figure.) The first iteration of the Ley de la Austeridad Republicana, submitted in 2010 by Ricardo Monreal Ávila, a then-labor party senator from Zacatecas who is now Morena’s senate majority leader, writes, “We must follow President Benito Juárez’s example of honest administration, because a liberal, democratic republic is impossible without it.” Critics have pointed out that Juárez’s earnings as president were anything but austere, and that the value was attributed to him posthumously, as part of the PRI’s official commodification of the Mexican Revolution to serve its own ends.

The English-language press’s favored historical comparison for AMLO has been Lázaro Cárdenas, insisting that he is “Mexico’s first leftist president since 1934.” AMLO does lift pages from Cárdenas. His endless touring of the country, for instance, has a Cárdenas precedent: between December 1933 and July 1934, Cárdenas toured every state and territory of Mexico, even though there was no way he was going to lose the election. Cárdenas also converted the Chapultepec Castle, which had been the presidential residence since Mexico’s short-lived Habsburg rule, into a national history museum, opting instead to move into a residence at the base of the castle’s hill called Los Pinos. AMLO has now converted Los Pinos into a museum and cultural center. And a line from historians Gilbert Josephs and Jürgen Buchenau may prove telling: “Cárdenas’s political personality blended unique leadership gifts with a carefully concealed authoritarian streak.”

AMLO and Cárdenas coincide in another key aspect: oil. In 1938, when foreign oil companies ignored a Mexican Supreme Court ruling in favor of striking workers, Cárdenas responded by expropriating the country’s oil, founding the nationalized company Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. Pemex became a symbol of economic nationalism, and was one of the only nationalized and parastatal companies to escape the privatization wave of the 1990s. Peña Nieto, however, worried that the company’s declining credit rating would bring Mexico down with it, opened Mexico’s oil industry to foreign investment. Defending the oil industry as a matter of national sovereignty, then, serves both AMLO’s anti-neoliberal politics and his distaste for Peña Nieto.

Pemex makes not only for good economic nationalism, but for a specifically Tabascan economic nationalism. The first petroleum discovery in Mexico—which took place in 1863, apocryphally when a priest was on his way to visit his mother and his horse’s feet got stuck—took place in AMLO’s home state, on the Gulf Coast in the country’s tropical southeast. More than half of Tabasco’s economy and jobs rely on oil. But when oil prices plummeted in 2014, just as Peña Nieto’s reform was finalized, the state’s burgeoning middle class plummeted into poverty, violence skyrocketed, and the unemployment rate reached the highest in the country.

Pemex is currently more than $100 billion in debt, having lost $23.6 in 2020’s first quarter on top of a net loss of $18.3 billion in 2019. Still, AMLO has clung to its symbolism. Just weeks after oil prices plummeted this March, he announced plans to continue with the $8 billion construction of a new refinery in Tabasco. The project is one of a string of initiatives criticized as pro-hydrocarbon and anti-environment. He also canceled contracts for wind and solar firms that were going to operate within the national power grid, and continues to advance his Maya Train, a tourism development project through the homeland of the Maya people that community members object will have devastating cultural and ecological effects. AMLO’s failure to cede to their protests is particularly confusing given that he spent six formative years living among the Chontal Maya.

The problem with the Cárdenas comparison—also revealed by the fact that the English-language press deemed AMLO’s win to be Mexico’s “Obama Moment” and its “Trump Moment” simultaneously—is that the political categories of “left” and “right,” the way that they are understood in the United States, don’t seamlessly map onto Mexican politics. It was Cárdenas who consolidated the Partido de La Revolución Mexicana (PRM), the corporatist political structure that would later become the PRI, a behemoth political party that saw itself as responsible for all political, social, and cultural activity within the country. The party was so large as to encompass practically the entire political spectrum. Differences were to be resolved from within, rather than through elections; civil society organizations didn’t exist, because the party charged itself with all social programming. It also accounted for geographic variegation. Though he has now all but erased his involvement in the PRI from his official biography, AMLO composed the lyrics to Tabasco’s PRI anthem. He’d joined the PRI as a university student, when Tabasco poet Carlos Pellicer recruited him to work on his 1976 senate campaign; his first wife encouraged him to embrace the party’s progressive wing. He left in 1988, when the upheaval of structural adjustment finally generated enough dissent for members of the party’s left to break off and form the National Democratic Front, later to become the PRD.

Many other presidents over the course of the PRI’s decades of rule also considered themselves leftists. President Ávila Camacho, Cárdenas’ handpicked successor, continued his predecessor’s projects of land reform and education, and founded the IMSS, or Mexican Social Security Institute, a public healthcare provider, at the same time as he passed laws restricting opposition parties and putting elections management in the hands of the federal government. Adolfo López Mateos, president from 1958 to 1964, was self-proclaimedly “of the extreme left” and demonstrated his commitment to economic nationalism by buying out all foreign electricity companies; Mexico’s nationalized Comisión Federal de Electricidad remains in place to this day.

No matter the government, until the neoliberal policies of the 1990s, public funding was a constant. The so-called “Mexican Miracle”—the average of six percent growth from 1940 to 1970—was achieved without foreign loans, and via government investment in health, education, energy, and infrastructure. This is where AMLO’s austerity falls hopelessly short of solving the country’s needs.

AMLO’s economic Tabascanism also fails to see the role of oil in causing Mexico to adopt the neoliberal policies of the 1990s that he so despises. In 1978, new oil deposits were discovered off the coast of Campeche, Tabasco’s neighboring state. The timing was perfect: an inflation crisis had recently forced Mexico to take on loans from the International Monetary Fund; the OPEC embargo was about to begin. President López Portillo rushed to expand Pemex’s production, which indeed increased more than tenfold in six years, coming to account for a third of the federal government’s expenditures. The combination of rising oil prices and low interest rates made it seem like a perfect time to take on foreign debt.

Then, in 1981, prices began to drop, and interest rates to rise. In August 1982, Mexico announced bankruptcy, admitting that it was unable to pay back its public debt, which had soared to 59 billion dollars. The peso dropped from 26 to 70 relative to the dollar, and inflation reached 100 percent. When President Miguel de la Madrid took office at the end of that year, then, he turned to the IMF and World Bank. The Structural Adjustment Policies that they required— trade liberalization, further reducing public expenditure, deregulation of foreign investment, and privatization of state enterprises—constitute the basis of Mexican neoliberalism.

Yet even the explicitly neoliberal, conservative PAN didn’t cut social programs as AMLO has. In May 2019, the director of the IMSS resigned, saying that the new austerity regime made it impossible for the health sector to operate adequately. The national hospitals were ordered to reduce their operating budgets by 30 percent; this spring, the country faced severe shortages of oncology and antiretroviral drugs. Then, in October, AMLO announced that he was dismantling the Seguro Popular, a public health insurance program established in 2003, under PAN president Fox. The Seguro Popular had increased access to health services and reduced out-of-pocket costs for the country’s poor, as well as significantly reduced infant mortality rates. It remains unclear exactly how AMLO’s replacement program, “Bienestar,” will work—he promised in December that “in a year” the health system would function—but one significant known change is that users will now have to pay out of pocket for “level three” services: hospital stays, chemotherapy, organ transplants, and heart surgery.

Such changes illustrate particularly well why dismissing critics of AMLO as conservatives misses the point. A belief in socialized medicine, domestic violence shelters, and daycares does not a neoliberal, elite, PANista make. Instead, such accusations fall into AMLO’s own Manichaean view of the world, in which the “Mexican people” are pitted against “conservatives.” And, on the contrary, believing that AMLO’s austere moral economy will resolve the entrenched inequality and violence within Mexican society requires a lot of faith in the ideology. Rather, an effective leftist approach does not yet exist in Mexico’s political sphere.

Mexican critics have raised concerns that AMLO and Morena are little more than a recycled PRI, pointing to AMLO’s formative political years and to Morena’s scale of control. What is different about AMLO, however, is his cult of personality and his distaste for the separation of powers. Critics have pointed out that Morena as a party does not have a coherent platform—its members are united by their reverence for their leader. Meanwhile, AMLO’s attacks on independent institutions have swelled in tandem with his appeals to his own moral authority. He has decried the autonomy of the Federal Electoral Commission and put one of his own in charge of the National Human Rights Commission. As head of government for Mexico City in the early 2000s, AMLO said of the Supreme Court that it “cannot be above the sovereignty of the people.” There is no need for separation of powers if the president holds an unquestionable moral authority.

Nor is there space for dissent. AMLO has called civil society organizations (NGOs) a “parallel government” that exists for “looting,” and that “everything about civil society is conservatism.” In March of this year, when over 80,000 women gathered in Mexico City to protest a string of gruesome femicides, and went on strike the following day—staying home and out of public view to force the country to imagine what it would be like without women—AMLO stated that the protests were being organized by enemies “who want to see my government fail,” and blamed the murders on “past neoliberal policies.” Currently, mothers of murdered women are occupying the National Human Rights Commission; AMLO has stated that their demands are “embraced by conservatism” and that “there is an exaggeration in every sense.”

These discourses became unignorable with the Covid-19 pandemic, which AMLO has mishandled strikingly. Where Guatemala closed its borders on March 17, AMLO appeared at his mañanera the next day with amulets. “El escudo protector es la honestidad,” he said. “Eso es lo que protege. El no permitir la corrupción.” The protective shield is honesty. That is what protects us. The prohibition of corruption. He pulled a small red square stamped with white and gold designs and text. “El detente,” he read. The stop. He reached into his pocket again. Well, all I have is another “detente,” he told the country, smiling. He read its invocation aloud: Stop, enemy, the heart of Jesus is with me.

He continued touring the country with his usual fervor, drawing large crowds to inspire and kissing babies. Not until March 28 did the country’s subsecretary of health, Hugo López-Gatell, implore denizens to Stay home. Stay home. . . . This is the final opportunity to avoid disastrous consequences. Even then, AMLO stayed on the move. That weekend, video footage went viral of AMLO in Sinaloa, greeting the mother of drug lord El Chapo with a handshake. When a reporter asked Lopez-Gatell about whether Mexicans should be concerned that AMLO would transport the virus by continuing to meet with large crowds, the subsecretary responded, “the president is a moral force, not one of contagion.”

On May 8, the New York Times reported that Mexico’s federal government was reporting only a third of Mexico City’s estimated 2,500 deaths from Covid-19, and that at least one previous health secretary had denounced López-Gatell for misleading the Mexican public. On May 11, AMLO responded that “the famous ‘curve’ has flattened,” that 25 percent of ICU beds were available, and that he was going to release his plan for re-opening within three days. He told the public that the New York Times article was “biased and lacking ethics,” “part of the crisis of neoliberalism,” and that the real virus was fake news that produced and transmitted disinformation and alarm. On July 31, he announced that he would wear a facemask once there was no more corruption in Mexico.

Between already low ICU bed counts and a medical system reeling from the year’s budget cuts, Mexico, which ranks tenth among countries in the world by population, held at the end of August the world’s fourth-highest number of Covid-19 fatalities. In the midst of this public health disaster, the airplane raffle came back. A week before the final draw, AMLO announced that the federal government would buy a million raffle tickets to be divided among the 951 public hospitals that had treated Covid-19 patients. He explained that in the event that a hospital won one of the 100 prizes of 20 million pesos, the workers would decide what to do with the funds, “whether it’s equipment or bettering the situation at the hospital with uniforms, PPE, an ambulance, or whatever they decide.” In the end, multiple hospitals won—in Zacatecas, Nayarit, and the State of Mexico. Yet at the same time, the numbers came out showing that on top of the annual payments, AMLO’s government has committed 1 billion dollars to the presidential airplane in debt, maintenance, refurbishment, insurance, and buying tickets from the National Lottery.

AMLO has made it clear that there is little that cannot be blamed on neoliberalism and corruption. Both are indeed forces at the root of inequality, poverty, and abuses of power worldwide. We urgently need to imagine a post-neoliberal political economy. But AMLO’s austere, hydrocarbon-based governing does not promise to better the situation, no matter the rhetoric. It seems likely, instead, to eviscerate what little was left of a government mandate to care for the well-being of its citizens. It is crucial that observers not overlook his brand of warm demagoguery because the rhetoric includes words they long to hear.

“Es un movimiento,” a Mexican migration activist remarked to me as a Morena advertisement dissolved from the computer screen in front of us this February, back before the world had changed so drastically. “Pero no dice pa’ donde.”

It’s a movement. But it doesn’t say where it’s going.

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