“Humble people are very grateful,” said the President on November 5. To better illustrate his point, he parodied the attitude that a supposedly middle or upper class lady would have, who goes to get vaccinated without showing the expected gratitude. The lady dares to question the manager about how long the process will take and asks him to hurry up. Not satisfied with that, she has the audacity to ask which vaccine she will be given and even goes so far as to express that the government has an obligation to vaccinate her since vaccines are financed by taxes. As expected, he leaves without saying thank you. What a difference from the humble person in the story, who repeatedly thanks and even showers officials with blessings! (The video can be seen in https://tinyurl.com/4zy7v7kz).
The story caught the attention of commentators and on social media. Much was said about how the message deepens social polarization and the strange onslaught against the middle class – the one it calls “aspirational” and selfish. However, the issue is even more worrying if we understand democracy as something more than the simple exercise of the citizen vote. Those who are elected govern for all citizens and not only for those who voted for them. It is natural in a democracy that citizens demand good performance from the authorities and democracy must flourish permanently and not only when there are elections.
Those who demand promptness, efficiency and quality in public actions – be it the application of vaccines, health or education services, public safety, the provision of infrastructure or any other action derived from public duty – are not only within their legitimate right Rather, they act precisely as they are expected to, pushing the government to do better. The claim against those who justify the demand on the grounds that they pay taxes for that is out of place. It implies disregarding or disregarding the implicit contract between citizen and government in a democracy. Citizens finance the government with their taxes based on the fact that public spending will be for the benefit of the citizens themselves and not as a tribute in a feudal system. It is perfectly justified to demand effective, efficient and attentive care, as is requesting information – even about the vaccine to be applied. It also implies that government actions must be adapted if required by citizen demand or if conditions change. The claim and the presidential parody (parable?) Reflects an undemocratic vision.
Many in government seem bothered that citizens feel empowered to demand that the government perform properly. They detest anything that may remain outside the control of the State even if it solves a need not covered by it, which explains the attack against organized civil society or the refusal to partner with the private sector to expedite the application of vaccines or other actions. They hate what smells of independent thought and repudiate any questioning of government action, considering it the product of obscure interests, although the relevance and veracity of the questioning is demonstrated with evidence. For them, citizens should only be grateful for what the government generously gives them, whether it serves them or not, improves their lives or not. If the service is slow or inadequate it should not be a cause for complaint. Perhaps that is why the contempt shown towards the middle class, which manages to get ahead with its effort and depend less on government support.
A country of citizens who do not question and do not demand is a country far from democracy. It is also a country condemned to low growth and low development. Without citizen demand, there are fewer incentives to improve public policies and programs. The deficiency in government action also inhibits investment and economic activity. Mexico was advancing in building a more empowered citizenship and a vibrant democracy. Let’s not let this get lost.
* The author is a professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation of the Tecnológico de Monterrey. Personal opinions.
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