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Doctor Mora and Mr. Trump

10 August 2017

Doctor Mora, José Maria Luis Mora Lamadrid, was a maddening bundle of contradictions — a priest who fought for a secular state, a liberal democrat who supported conservative dictators,  Santa Anna’s ideological foe… and the brains behind Santa Anna’s political success.  Born in 1794, he was only a bystander during the bloody War of Independence, spending most of the period as a student at the presigious Colegio de San Ildefonso, earning a doctorate the same year he was ordained, in 1820.

Although holding a clerical  sinacure (as Archdiocesan librarian),  he opposed the 1824 Constitution for what he considered its inherent contradiction in guaranteeing freedom of thought while estabilishing the Roman Catholic Church as the state religion.  He abandonded his clerical post to take up journalism, taking his fight against clerical privilige and arguing for seizure of Church properties.  While he supported the rights of the people against the elites, the 1828 expulsion of Spanish citizens — as well as his own thinking about the French Revolution — led to his backing the conservative coup of the dictator, Antonio Bustamente.  Initially thinking that limiting voting rights to property holders would better guarantee individual rigts than would universal suffrage, he soon realized that this would serve only conservative interests.

In studying the problems related to limiting the vote, based on his observations of election results at a time when Mexico was going back and forth between broad and limited suffrage, he became, in effect, the first political scientist. His findings were the key to, ironically, Santa Anna’s success… and perhaps, better explain Donald Trump’s puzzling election, better than any more recent pundit.

What Mora found was that what today are called the “low information voter” is not all that nuch a factor in elections. Nor really — except for campaign funds — are the rich.   The rich will stay rich, no matter who wins an election, but are invested in the sttus quo.  The “low information voters” … mostly the poor in Mora’s day … will take their opinions from their “betters”.  Peons are not going to have much interaction with rich hacienda owners, but will with the smaller land-owners, the village priest, the local shopkeeper.  Likewise, in the cities, the “better sort” the poor are going to meet with will be government clerks and gofers, market stall owners, journalists, and school-masters.  In short, it was the insecure middle-class (or what would be recognized as middle-class today) that determined who would win elections.

Santa Anna may not have read Mora´s works… but his backers did.  And, Santa Anna — the son of a minor bureaucrat and initially a small time hacienda owner himself — instinctively knew to appeal to the people Mora said were the key to winning office.  As a land-owner, Santa Anna was considered relatively progressive, seeing the welfare of his peones as essential to his own business success.  Moreover, his record as a regional adminstrator, as governor of the Yucatan where he simply ignored regulations imposed by Mexico City when they would harm the local economy suggested to rural middle-class “decision makers” that he would look out for the interests of the middle class, and prevent unrest among the campesinos.   His education policies (Santa Anna’s governments always supported programs to make basic education available to more students) were particularly popular, the great fear among the small-time business owner always being that their children would not have the skills or education needed to maintain or improve their social status.

That Santa Anna was a political chameleon, sometimes a liberal, sometimes a conservative might matter to the elites, but as long as he could hold out the promise of protecting the middle-class, he was safe.  It was only in his last presidency, when he was married into the elites, and appealed to the interests of the elites, that he was finally thrown out of office (and the country) for good.

Pundits today try to explain Trump as a product of the “low information voter” when perhaps they should have looked at the contemporary US equivalent of those 19th century landowners and shopkeepers… the “middle brow” TV pundits, the gas station owner, the departmental manager… though to be fair, Santa Anna often delivered on his promises to protect the middle class and Trump… well…

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