For more years than anyone still living can remember, worried citizens have been telling themselves that – in order for Argentina to get out of the swamp into which, led astray by the belief that “greatness” was hers for the taking, she wandered almost a century ago – the country’s political leaders would have to put aside their little differences and work together. They assumed that if everyone learned to sing from the same hymnbook, the country would quickly recover from the ailments that are holding it back. That, no doubt, is why many find the idea that political divisions here are far deeper and wider than they are in other parts of the world so appealing that they insist it is why the country keeps slipping lower and lower down the international league tables.
Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Decline set in not because politicians started squabbling among themselves, as they do in all democratic countries, but because far too many agreed that, as Argentina was rich in natural resources, it would be unseemly to ask people to do much more than live off the proceeds.
An inappropriate consensus will have far more serious consequences than any amount of political bickering. By international standards, the much- lamented crack or grieta or whatever you choose to call it that currently separates the Kirchnerites from their foes is a minor affair. It can hardly be compared with the gaping holes that have opened in the United Kingdom, across which Brexiteers and Remainers, “Tory scum” and fans of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn, hurl crude insults at one another, or the US, where many staunch Democrats assume that Donald Trump’s supporters are Neanderthals who should be treated with the contempt such throwbacks deserve.
In France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Greece and much of the rest of Europe, social and political divisions that were already considerable are rapidly getting worse thanks to the sudden arrival of millions of Muslim immigrants, among them contingents of battle-hardened holy warriors, who are most unlikely to adopt the easy-going customs of the lands they hope to settle in.
Accompanying the notion that, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, Argentine politicians are an extraordinarily quarrelsome lot is the belief that, as a result, the country is far more prone than others to suffer from political violence. Thirty or so years ago that would have seemed reasonable enough, but since then Argentina has been notably peaceful.
Though plenty of nasty incidents have taken place since the obvious exception of the Jihadi attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA Jewish community centre – would strike Europeans or North Americans as being particularly bad. Here, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of one young man, Santiago Maldonado, has played a big part in the political conversation for weeks on end; in most other countries, people would have been too busy counting the dead from the latest terrorist atrocities to pay much attention to the case.
Let us hope this happy state of affairs continues. Argentina would certainly benefit if she acquired a reputation as a haven of peace in a troubled world that is being increasingly riven by sectarian, ethnic and, in the United States of all places, feverish ideological disputes. Kirchnerites may loathe liberals and vice versa, but surely few attached to either bunch would publicly gloat over the slaughter of men and women they suspected would back a politician they dislike, as happened a few days ago after that Las Vegas gunman massacred people attending a country music festival and, among many others who took to social media to express themselves, a CBS News vice-president – who was promptly fired – said that seeing as the dead had in all likelihood been “Republican gun-toters” she felt no sympathy for them.
Argentina has an advantage over those developed countries which, to the bewilderment of the political elite, are running smack into a series of problems for which there are no obvious solutions. If nothing else, decades of failure have taught most people that since there are no easy answers, modest improvements should be welcomed. Mauricio Macri seems to understand this, hence the “gradualism,” a capitalist version of the Fabianism” once favoured by pragmatic British socialists, he has made the hallmark of his administration.
It should also be possible to learn from other countries’ mistakes. Multiculturalism may be wonderful in theory but in practice, as even Angela Merkel stressed a few years ago before deciding to let all-comers in and then trying to slam the doors back shut, if taken too far it simply does not work. As well as controlling immigration to prevent the formation of large communities likely to remain hostile towards the general population, future governments should also keep a keen eye on the local birth-rate and do their utmost to bring it back up if, as could happen fairly soon, it dips below the level needed for the country to avoid entering a death spiral, as have most European ones whose prospects in this department and many others are getting darker by the day.