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Of institutions and individuals: the unbearable cynicism of authority

“The government has done good things. What the government needs is to communicate better. Many of the things that have been done are not received from the Duque government, but as something institutional.” Álvaro Uribe

Political institutions and their incumbents shape relationships that are sometimes difficult to separate. In a culture where the saying that “the habit makes the monk” is a precept, the institution, as a set of rules, both formal and informal, that protects the actions of those in charge, has a not inconsiderable relevance. However, this does not mean that the individuals in charge of them are puppets without any capacity to draw the lines of their exercise. Both define decisive steps that have consequences not only in the material but also in the symbolic sphere.

This is so, for example, in the transfer of values and behavioral patterns through exemplary processes, something that is inherent to the development of humanity and that today has an unusually accelerated dynamic due to the speed and the extent to which news or entertainment content reaches the public. In a few weeks, the viewing of a series of undoubted success such as The Crown or the circumstances surrounding the life of the Spanish king emeritus away from the country, Juan Carlos I, have not only triggered an awareness that is critical of the monarchical institution, but, coupled with the atrabiliary behavior of the tenant of the White House until a few days ago, have awakened a reflection on the necessary model character that should drive the biunivocal relationship between leaders and institutions.

Monarchical continuity

As opposed to the case of monarchical continuity transmitted by inheritance, a practice that today has a certain exoteric component, in addition to its unusual privileged character, the institution of reelection, when it becomes unlimited and with few control mechanisms, also acquires an irritating character due to the abuse and arbitrariness that it usually entails. The examples of Venezuela and Nicaragua are evidence of this. In both circumstances, the institutions that protect them respond to specific historical processes and to the expansion of models that acquire a reputation at certain times.

In Spain, the transition established a form imposed by the dictator inserted in an overall democratizing package that was quite functional. Indeed, the monarchy was successful in institutional terms not so much for its moderating power as for avoiding the always risky process that would have involved a presidential election based on a “zero-sum” winner-take-all logic. In a country with the demons of the civil war then still at large, such a situation would have contributed to an unbearable increase in polarization.

The laws and customs

However, in both scenarios, the juxtaposition of those who hold office with the very rules that articulate it produce, in their actions, effects with unquestionable consequences in the societies that passively receive them. Laws and customs can channel their actions to a large extent, but there is always an unregulated loophole subject to the discretionality of the person in charge.

The decision to participate in an African hunt at a time of severe economic recession and with a public opinion sensitive to the practice of hunting itself, or the receipt of commissions for brokering business deals with national companies are inappropriate and criminal behaviors that a mature society can hardly tolerate. To the abuse of the monarch is added the lack of professionalism of his entourage to avoid the outrage or, even worse, the absence of foreseeing mechanisms of such performance.

Bukele in El Salvador

Nayib Bukele, the current Salvadoran president who is on his way to obtain a majority support in the Legislative Assembly of his country in the elections to be held in a few weeks, has just affirmed, against all empirical evidence, as well as against the consensus of the international society, that the peace agreements that put an end to the bloody conflict that devastated the country especially in the 1980s with a toll of more than 75,000 dead were “a farce”, a “business of elites” and “a pact between corrupt people”.

According to Bukele, in a cynical exercise of distorted management of what happened, “they did not represent any improvement for the population in their most basic rights (bringing with them) the beginning of a stage of greater corruption and social exclusion and the fraudulent enrichment of the same sectors that signed the agreements”.

A trend in the region

In Paraguay, a judge has sent to prison one of the main opposition leaders, Efraín Alegre, charged with producing invoices that do not correspond to real expenses in connection with the 2018 election campaign in which he was a liberal presidential candidate, even though the electoral law itself clearly states that no candidate can be an administrator of any fund. Those elections gave the triumph by a narrow margin to the sempiternal colorado party in the figure of the son of the main valid of the dictator Stroessner. International observation then questioned the result.

These situations mark tendencies defined by a way of acting in which dishonesty and the null sense of exemplarity prevail in a perverse combination between institutional performance and individual performance. The absence of an ethic of both responsibility and conviction is obvious. It is also worrying because it contributes to the spread of cynicism as a pattern of conduct, as well as to the underestimation of an authority that loses its capacity to exercise leadership and to the discrediting of the functioning of institutions. All of which feeds distrust and a certain type of political anomie with the consequent weakness of a fatigued democracy.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Photo of XV Ibero-American Summit – Salamanca, Spain by Cláudio Vaz


Otros artículos del autor

Professor Emeritus at the University of Salamanca and UPB (Medellín). Latest books (2020): "El oficio de político" (2nd. ed., Tecnos (Madrid) and in co-edition with Porfirio Cardona-Restrepo "Dilemas de la representación democrática" (Tirant lo Blanch, Colombia).


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