Mr. Lane, who did not give his first name, sits with his family in their home Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in San Diego. The Lane family has been on edge since President Donald Trump took office. The mother, a Mexican who is in the country illegally, now carries her birth and marriage certificates and other documents wherever she goes. Around the country, Trump's efforts to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. have spread fear and anxiety and led many people to brace for arrest and to change up their daily routines in hopes of not getting caught. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) Image Credit: AP

Things have gone from bad to worse for the Mexican government. And nobody seems able to stop the downward spiral.

It doesn’t help that the country’s various political parties — from the conservative National Action Party to the socialist Democratic Revolution Party; the populist National Regeneration Movement, or Morena; and a motley lot of independents — have busily tried to capitalise on this crisis, with little regard for the consequences of their actions.

Suddenly, though, a bright light has appeared. An unlikely beacon of hope — US President Donald J. Trump! Thanks to Trump, Mexico’s feuding parties now have a common cause, or at least a shared enemy. Unity suddenly acquires cosmic proportions: We are all migrants, all patriots, all good people! Anything but Mexico’s harsh realities.

Difficult times demand unity, and in that context, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s declarations regarding Trump have been spot on. Yet no amount of presidential posturing will erase years of institutional disdain of the people or prevent political opponents like Morena’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from trying to score points with rival calls for unity. Mexican citizens are cautious from experience, and versed enough in politics to distinguish between the interested and the disinterested. For them, these calls for unity ring hollow, distant and downright false.

Grabbing the spotlight

The politicians seem to care less about Mexico’s pending fate than they do about grabbing the political spotlight now so as to secure power later. Some more hard proof of that was the inability of the organisers of a massive march in Mexico City, on February 12, to agree on their aims.

The problem with calls for unity is that they excite nobody when they are against something. People want answers and solutions, not cheap condemnations. If people are to unite, it should at least be in favour of something better.

The migrants who live in fear in the United States and their families back here in Mexico do not want marches and protests, though they might join one to help change the country. The president, on the other hand, has good reason to join the parade — to cover up his own dismal ratings. But nothing can hide the ugly fact that despite the outside threat to their lives, Mexicans are angrier with their own government than with Trump.

It was no accident that so many of the organisations set to join last month’s march decided, in the end, to opt out. Nobody wants to board a sinking ship carrying the government and many of those who believed at some point that its reforms could work.

For almost half a century, Mexicans have been living and waiting for a transformation that could free the country of the shackles of the past. During that time, many efforts were made to reform aspects of the country’s political and economic life. But none sought to lay out the bases of a different future or launch the country into the 21st century.

Economic reforms created certain free spaces that have given us extraordinary relief, without providing a comprehensive solution. Political and electoral reforms managed to assuage opposition groups and include them in the system of perks and privileges created by the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party. So many everyday workers, however, had to seek jobs abroad because opportunities here are absent. These decades have been devoted to dealing with the crisis at hand: patching up holes and cleaning wounds that will not heal.

It took just a few tweets by Trump to unmask the country and reveal weaknesses. But if all you can do in response is to indignantly wrap yourself in the national flag, well, that’s just bravado. People aren’t sick and tired for nothing, and problems will not be solved, as Lopez Obrador suggests, by returning to some idyllic, simple past. Urging a “new nation-building project” may sound great, but it flies in the face of the world we live in now.

Undying fans of nationalism

The country certainly must change. The question, though, is how. Where should Mexico be heading? Calls for unity are only of interest to those interested in — and with vested interests in — the past. These are the undying fans of nationalism, what George Orwell described as “power-hunger tempered by self-deception.”

Trump has yanked us out of our comfort zone and is forcing us to choose. We either take a firm step into the 21st century or accept more deterioration. If we choose the latter, we can at least be sure of our direction: downward. And no one should believe they can save their own skin by jumping ship — or that the state of the country can’t actually get worse. History since the Russian Revolution has shown just how bad things can get in a country. What we need today is Mexicans coming together to build a collective future, not calls for unity from a privileged position on a sinking cruise ship.

— Worldcrunch 2017/
New York Times News Service

Luis Rubio is chairman of Cidac (Centre of Research for Development), an independent research institution devoted to the study of economic and political policy issues.