In the address on the State of the Nation, presented at the Capitol by President Joe Biden this Tuesday, the partisan radicalism that is beginning to border on hysteria in today’s political societies was manifested, perhaps as never before. A symptom that illustrates the worrying degradation experienced by politics in the world. It is true that, now and always, in all parliaments a portion of the room usually applauds enthusiastically, while the other shows their annoyance, as a result of partisan militancy. The United States, like Mexico, are no exception. But the images of the session this Tuesday were pathetic. The Republicans never applauded President Biden, even in the face of statements of State or bipartisan interest (only the mention of victims and heroes of violence, who were present, drew some applause from them).
It seems like a minor thing, but what it reveals is very significant: for the Republicans, Biden is first and foremost a Democratic leader, a rival, and secondarily the president of the United States. A break with the criteria of the past, when it was understood that there were times when the president, regardless of the party he belonged to, was the acting head of government and was treated as such. Not anymore.
This is a reflection, I insist, of something more serious. From Donald Trump’s first campaign it became clear that the shortest shortcut to get votes was not the construction of proposals to improve the country, but the degradation of the opponent, the inflammation of fears and resentments in the voter. It was much easier to muddy the rival in contention than to build strong arguments about community issues. The demonization of the rival to the point of abjection leads voters to assume that the reviled character is to such a perverse or incapable point that his triumph can only be the result of fraud. And in any case, it is assumed that, whether he has succeeded legally or illegally, it is a moral imperative to prevent him from governing.
The dirty war in electoral campaigns has always existed, of course. But it was a kind of subtext, underneath the political debate and the confrontation of programs and agendas. The novelty is that this previously underground battle has ended up becoming the dominant party. Electoral competition is less and less a display of different alternatives for the political market or the nation’s project and more and more a battle of muddying strategies between the contenders’ war rooms. A scandal, conveniently handled in networks and media, can be more than enough to reverse a trend in voting intentions. A “well” worked resentment or prejudice saves millions in publicity or efforts to build viable projects. Linking the voter’s fears to a trait of the rival produces miracles: “it will flood the country with migrants”, “it will raise taxes and expropriate businesses” or, on the contrary, “it will suppress unions”, “it will reduce wages”. Let alone strictly personal traits redefined, if possible, in abominable terms.
Social networks, despite their many virtues in other aspects, have been the perfect breeding ground for this form of public conversation about politics. The virality obtained by the negative messages, the success of the mockery, the anonymity in the accusation, the pseudo information or the entertainment information, the possibility of generating bots and using influencers to push these messages, they are transforming electoral processes for the worse. In theory, the proper functioning of democracy requires that citizens be in a position to know the options that are competing for power, to choose a candidate according to their interests and convictions. The abuse of marketing and the power of money we experienced had already compromised that possibility. But what we are seeing now is a further decline that ends up compromising the very meaning of an election. The degradation of politics that, by the way, by itself, was never exactly honorable.
And, by the way, I have taken this underlying theme to build a story that reveals the ins and outs of a war room in electoral times. Penelope’s Dilemma, is a political thriller that follows the case of a woman who inadvertently learns of a secret and nefarious plan to win the presidential election. Penelope finds herself in the dilemma of saving her life and staying out of it or doing something to showcase the ongoing tragedy. A pretext that has served me to put into motion the ideas described above. These days I have been presenting this, which is my fifth novel.
Note: A comment regarding the notes published after the trial against Genaro Garcia Luna, according to which an alleged advertisement for the Government of Chihuahua hired in the newspaper The universal it would have been financed by the drug trafficker to procure favorable coverage for the then Secretary of Security. Beyond the details that this newspaper has already made, I share the following: from September 2008 to October 2010 I was in charge of the Editorial Board of The universal, during two of the six years of Felipe Calderon’s six-year term; that is, part of the period to which the criminal making the accusation refers. With the team that accompanied me, we exercised an independent and critical line towards the public administration, as anyone who takes the trouble to see the corresponding files can see. I do not personally know former governors Ruben or Humberto Moreira or Genaro Garcia Luna, characters whose performance I have repeatedly questioned in my columns and whose excesses and errors were occasionally collected in notes and reports in the newspaper itself. During the period in which I was director, I never received any observations from the company or its owner regarding the coverage regarding the Secretary of Public Security, or for that matter the Calderon administration.