After returning from Mexico, the single most frequent question I got was: “What do you think of the new president?”
Though coverage of the Mexican elections has not been prominently featured in the news in the United States, I, like many Americans I know, got my New York Times and Washington Post notifications on the night of the election notifying me of the results.
The Buzzfeed notification read “Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is Mexico’s next president. The left-wing populist has vowed to transform the country.”
The New York Times article published the day after the election is titled “A President of Paradox for Mexico,” while the breaking news story read “Lopez Obrador, an Atypical Leftist, Wins Mexico Presidency in Landslide.”
Meanwhile, Washington Post took much of the same approach, telling its readers about AMLO’s win with the headline “Lopez Obrador wins Mexican presidency, becoming first leftist to govern in decades.”
If one simply refers to American news sources, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s (AMLO for short) presidency doesn’t bode well for the world — or Mexico, for that matter. Many articles in American media contemplate his leftist leanings, debate his approach to President Trump, and discuss the new policies he’s proposed for Mexico.
As a #HoyainMexico who just spent eight days immersing myself in Mexican politics, press coverage, policies, and history, these headlines and my own personal experiences with people asking me about my trip jumped out to me as a curious trend in American coverage and perceptions of Mexican politics.
I’ve noticed a tendency, as Americans, to define politicians on a sliding scale between left and right. There’s center, left of center, right of center, and so on. “Left” defines a candidate’s views on everything from the economy and foreign policy to a woman’s right to choose and LGBTQ+ rights. If I learned anything from my time in Mexico, it was that to look at Mexican politics in the same narrow scope would be a mistake.
Prior to the trip, our group video chatted with Georgetown Professor John Bailey, an emeritus professor in the Latin American Studies Program and an expert on all things Mexico. His description of the Mexican political spectrum stayed with me for the entirety of my trip.
He told us not to think of it as a sliding scale, but something like 4 quadrants. From right to left, parties vary from conservative to liberal. But from top to bottom, political parties go from being pro-system to anti-system.
The “system,” as Professor Bailey put it, encompasses much of the political establishment that has directed Mexican politics for many years. AMLO, Bailey said, is pro-system and ideologically near the middle of the left-right scale. Why, then, is there so much confusion about his plans, ideologies, and policies?
AMLO is not easily described. Those news sources simply labeling AMLO as a leftist ignore his other tendencies. So do the stories labeling him as just a “populist,” “another Trump,” or “nationalist.” Though he might fit all of those molds at one time or another, he’s not so easily labeled.
For example, he’s someone who has long been embedded in Mexican politics — he’s no outsider. He ran on a platform that focused on tackling corruption and implementing economic reform. Though in the past he’s advocated for particularly radical economic policies, he governed Mexico City as a pragmatic, fiscally prudent mayor. Does that mean that he’s going to be a fiscally conservative president? He’s an opposition candidate and has rallied up the support of many in his country, even calling them to the streets in protest in 2006 after losing a presidential bid. Does that mean that he does not respect Mexico’s fundamental institutions of democracy?
I’m not sure how I would answer some of these questions. AMLO, in my opinion, was the right man for the job. Had another candidate won in Mexico with such definitive polling putting AMLO in the lead, there would have been accusations of vote buying and corruption thrown around more than they already are.
When people ask me what I think of Mexico’s next president given my time in Mexico, I tell them about the people we spoke with. They have hope — hope that he can rid the country of corruption, hope that he can end poverty, hope that he can turn the page for a new Mexico. I’m not convinced he can deliver in the six short years he has in office, but I’m curious to see how he approaches his presidency. It’s clear that change is necessary. I, like many of the Mexican people who voted him into office, am cautiously optimistic about Mexico’s next president.