A Nation Distracted by its Own Polarization
By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER
The inauguration of the new Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) on Monday, March 21, by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) proved that in his polarizing and divide-and-conquer strategy, López Obrador has had an unwitting but unbeatable ally: a class-oriented and racist society that is willing to discriminate at the slightest provocation.
Over the last three years, López Obrador has repeatedly set the recurrent trap of provocation, aimed at turning the country’s small upper class elites against its still- enormous lower class.
In the eyes of AMLO (and his faithful followers), Mexico is divided into good and bad, progressives and conservatives, fifis and chairos. And his opponents have followed suit, turning their rejection of the president and all his political decisions into diatribes against his supporters.
Every time the president disqualifies, mocks, attacks or insults his critics (he does it daily in his morning conferences), he contributes to Mexico’s growing social polarization because he knows full well that he will find an answer just as offensive, just as coarse and just as irrational as his attacks from his opponents.
Just as he has attacked mercilessly his foes for any number of reasons, real or imagined, AMLO has been attacked for his way of dressing, the shine of his shoes, his wife’s wardrobe, his son’s hair, obesity or any other physical characteristic of any of his coreligionists.
With the succession of provocations, the president has not only managed to distract the national debate from the truly important issues the country is facing (insecurity, the advance of organized crime, the weakening of democracy, militarization, economic collapse, unemployment, a shortage of medicines, health crisis, a human rights crisis, systematic violation of the law, violation of the division of powers, for starters), but he has also managed to make a vast sector of society with serious disagreements toward his leftist way of governing become an enemy, not an adversary.
Many Mexicans who do not think like López Obrador and who have been victimized by his verbal assaults tend to disqualify his followers for their low academic levels, their spelling errors, their privative customs, the neighborhood where they live in or their lack of sophistication. But by demeaning these people, AMLO’s opponents only strengthen the president’s fan base and further distract attention from real national issues.
Much has been said and written about the pernicious polarization that AMLO has brought to Mexico. It was the president who, first as a candidate and later as president, chose to lead the country down a path of division and hatred among Mexicans.
But a very large sector of the upper and middle classes has become an accomplice, albeit involuntarily, of López Obrador’s divisionism. He knows that they will respond to his bravado by attacking him instead of concentrating on criticizing the government and its actions.
Rather than real debate, the country is focused on an exchange of insults. By insulting one another, the Mexican people have fallen into the trap of polarization and are feeding one another with mutual hate speech.
And so the case of the inauguration of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport.
The president’s megaproject was riddled with questionable elements and substantive controversies. Among other things, it could be argued that only the renovation and change to a civil aviation service was inaugurated, of a runway that already existed in what was previously the Santa Lucía Military Base.
One could also speak of untendered contracts with front companies, of the absence of international certification that prevents international flights from landing, of the death of 10 workers during the construction process, of a lack of adequate infrastructure connecting the airport to Mexico City, and many other issues. These are elements to fundamentally question the project, its execution and its eventual contribution to the national development.
But instead, the media that reflects that sector of society that is in permanent disagreement with López Obrador was filled with videos and remarks that, far from questioning the viability, transparency and usefulness of the new airport, were dedicated to disparaging the austere architecture of the premises, the commercial stands within the air terminal, and even the presence of itinerant merchandise and snacks in its corridors. Many of these comments were charged with the type of classism that the president sarcastically denounces in his morning speeches because he knows that this sort of speech only serves to strengthen his popularity.
The new airport may indeed be a monument to bad taste and may not resemble either Heathrow in London or Kloten in Zurich in either design or functionality. But turning the preferences for greasy food or the absence of Swiss watch shops into a cause for criticism of a mega infrastructure project belittles those who wish to criticize it.
It is clear that polarization is AMLO’s secret weapon to strengthen his government. Those who tried to downgrade the new airport on the grounds of its food and souvenir stands, or its intentionally astringent architecture, or even the presence of street vendors on the day of the inauguration, have fallen into AMLO’s trap of social provocation to bring about a vicious class discourse that only feeds the popularity of López Obrador.
The president won over his critics with the new airport’s inauguration, but not because it was finished on time (it is not finished), nor because it solves the problem of air saturation in Mexico City (it will have only 12 daily flights compared to the Mexico City International Airport 889 daily flights), but simply because the event provoked the type of criticism that is in itself polarizing.
And about the problems of the project that really matter and count, such as poor accessibility for the disabled, very little was said by any of the voices of Mexican society.