Who would have guessed that Mexico — with its persistent racism against dark-skinned indios and its habit of electing light-skinned presidents — would turn for its salvation to a political party named Morena?
The word refers to a dark-skinned woman, evoking images of the beloved patron saint of Mexico — the Virgen de Guadalupe.
The acronym refers to El Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (The National Regeneration Movement), which has — in just four years — matured into Mexico’s most exciting political party.
In June 2017, in the gubernatorial election in the state of Mexico — home to one-fifth of the Mexican electorate and Mexico City — Morena candidate Delfina Gomez came in a close second.
Now, Morena is the favorite to win the whole enchilada — the presidential election on July 1. The candidate is also its founder and top promoter — Andrés Manuel López Obrador better known as “AMLO” to journalists and voters alike.
An unapologetic leftist who ran for president twice unsuccessfully — in 2006 and 2012 — under the banner of the radical Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), López Obrador has shrewdly rebranded himself as a pro-Mexican nationalist. He used to be considered a joke, a clown who amused the elite ruling class of Mexico more than frightened them. He liked stunts. After his loss in 2008, AMLO refused to concede and set up a symbolic shadow government complete with phony cabinet members.
But with the excitement that Morena is stirring amongst the Mexican people, and polls showing AMLO in first place, no one is laughing. The ultra-wealthy are afraid that he might levy extra taxes on the rich, or even confiscate property. But part of the middle class seems to be onboard because it wants change.
This could be the Morena moment. Mexican voters seem to be in a mood to gamble. A lot of them are disgusted with both major parties — the National Action Party (PAN), which started a drug war that killed more than 100,000 people, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) whose corruption looted the country for most of the 20th century, and which produced the failed presidency of Enrique Pena Nieto. Many people seem willing to take a chance, and Morena could be the beneficiary.
And what about López Obrador’s two previous defeats? Voters don’t care. After a string of failed presidents who had experience, connections and pedigrees, being a career politician has gone from asset to liability.
Any of this sound familiar?
How about this? AMLO is also — in a sense — making the United States into a convenient villain and promising to make Mexico great again.
You got it. López Obrador is the Mexican Donald Trump. He has many of the same gifts, and a similar appeal to Mexicans who feel left behind — and picked on by their neighbor.
But AMLO is also the anti-Trump to those Mexicans who are tired of being the U.S. president’s pi√±ata on issues ranging from NAFTA and drugs to immigration and crime.
In an op-ed last year for The Washington Post, AMLO bashed Trump as a propagandist who took advantage of “the frustrations of sectors of U.S. society burdened by unemployment, poverty and creaky, inefficient public institutions.” As López Obrador saw it, Trump did this to “deflect attention from those very real problems and focus instead on imaginary enemies.” He accused Trump of cynically “promoting racial hatred, mass paranoia and an imperial arrogance that is obsolete in today’s world.”
Americans should have known this storm was brewing south of the border. When Trump speaks to white voters in Ohio, Wisconsin, or Michigan — people who watched factories relocate to Mexico and now fear losing jobs to Mexican workers — he often portrays Mexicans as takers and predators.
Even from thousands of miles away, Mexicans hear those dog whistles loud and clear. They responded by making Trump persona non grata in Mexico. And now they could double down on their anger by electing a Trump of their own.
For Mexicans who want to push back against the Americans, and fight demagoguery with demagoguery, AMLO could be the vehicle to do just that.
But this latest Mexican revolution isn’t all about Trump.
López Obrador is also demanding that Mexico create more jobs and improve offerings so that its citizens no longer have to flee to the United States. “To do this,” he wrote in his op-ed, “Mexico must restart economic growth, create jobs and improve general living conditions. This means taking steps to reenergize agricultural production, boost the productive sectors and raise wages if we hope to make a dent in the migrant flow.”
This would be an improvement over Mexico’s current economic plan, which revolves around oil, tourism, and remittances from expatriates in the United States. And that’s about it.
AMLO, eh? Hang on tight, folks. This could be yuuuge.
Ruben Navarrette, a contributing editor to Angelus News, is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a Daily Beast columnist, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano,” and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”