On June 13, as Mexico surpassed 17,000 pandemic-related deaths and the country’s novel coronavirus contagion curve showed no signs of turning downward, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador released a video with what he called “a decalogue to emerge from coronavirus and face the new reality.” The video, recorded in one of the grand hallways inside the National Palace, showed López Obrador at his most vacuous. There were no mention of serious public policies or new health measures to contain the pandemic, much less any announcement of urgent economic assistance. Instead, López Obrador offered a litany of banalities.

In the video, the president suggested Mexicans should try “to be happy” and remain “optimistic.” They must “reject selfishness” and “consumerism.” They should go out, “be free” and “enjoy the sky, the sun and fresh air.” López Obrador also recommended eating beans and corn (“that blessed plant”) and tells citizens to consider raising chickens in their backyards, a custom he laments has been lost to modernity. Finally, he says, people should look for an ideal, “a utopia.”

“We will only be happy if we are good,” he preaches, pausing on every word.

This was not his first “decalogue.” In February, he reacted to growing outrage against gender violence with a similar list that included statements like “women should be respected” or “those who attack women should be punished.” But Saturday’s sermon should not be dismissed as just another ill-advised attempt to replace public policy with demagoguery. Behind López Obrador’s “respectful” advice to the Mexican people lies a darker truth: He has chosen to leave Mexicans to fend for themselves.

This should come as no surprise. Over the last few months, López Obrador utterly abandoned his responsibility in the fight against covid-19. He irresponsibly downplayed the risks of the pandemic, much like others with similar populist dispositions. He also ignored the most basic social distancing and hygiene norms. In true Trumpian fashion, he still refuses to wear a face mask, even when others around him comply (Hugo López-Gatell, Mexico’s coronavirus tsar, has inexplicably also refused to endorse masks as mandatory). López Obrador dismissed his own health experts’ quarantine timeline to embark in a series of unnecessary public appearances. Perhaps under the messianic impression that he could end a pandemic by decree, he has repeatedly announced the end of the threat, even when Mexico’s caseload kept climbing.

On Sunday, in a different video, he once again insisted the country had overcome the pandemic. “I think the worst is over,” he said, even when data suggests otherwise. López Obrador seemed impervious to the dangers facing the country. People, he said, should exercise their freedom and get on with their lives. “Now that we know how to take care of ourselves, we are able to go out on to the streets and safely carry on with our activities,” he said. “But now it’s up to us. We don’t need the authorities to issue recommendations.”

López Obrador’s decision to encourage Mexicans to turn the page when the virus is still ravaging the country is immoral. He knows the country is flying blind. Epidemiological authorities have chosen to barely conduct tests. Efforts at contact tracing are barely discernible. Mexico even appears to be chronically undercounting the deceased. Roughly two weeks ago, when the country began reopening, López Obrador’s own health experts introduced a system of color-coded alerts to monitor progression. On the first day, all but one of the country’s states were painted bright red. Things aren’t much better today.

López Obrador has no excuse for his impatience. If he were truly interested in economic recovery, he would have done more to help businesses ride the storm. He didn’t, and now millions of Mexicans are out of work. He does not have political urgency either. Mexico’s next federal election is a year away. That leaves two possibilities: either he thinks the country has really tamed the pandemic or he believes in the curative power of optimism and backyard chickens.

Misinformed or just delusional, Mexico’s president has given up.

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