France: Can Macron heal a divided nation?
This was a presidential election “for the record books,” said Alexis Feertchak in Le Figaro. Centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron beat nationalist firebrand Marine Le Pen 66 percent to 34 percent this week to become France’s new president, and nothing about his victory was normal. At 39, Macron is the youngest president in French history, and has never before held elected office. The runoff election was the first time that neither of the two main French parties— the center-left Socialists and the center-right Republicans— was in contention. A record 25 percent of French voters did not go to the polls at all; another record 12 percent cast blank or spoiled ballots. And while Le Pen lost, she took the highest vote share to date for a farright candidate—her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, won only 18 percent in the 2002 presidential runoff.
The upshot is that Macron has “no real mandate,” said Hervé Nathan in Marianne. He is president thanks to the “anyone but Le Pen” vote, the determination by the majority not to allow a xenophobic ultranationalist to represent France. A former investment banker and economy minister who quit the administration of outgoing Socialist President François Hollande because of his frustration at the slow pace of reform, Macron wants to deregulate the labor market and simplify the tax system. Did the French really vote for that? We’ll find out next month, when Macron will try to get a parliamentary majority for his new party, Forward!, which is still struggling to recruit members.
At least he won’t be going it alone, said L’Obs in an editorial. His wife, Brigitte, will be a hands-on first lady—a role that will soon be expanded to be more like “the American model, with an office, a budget, and staff.” Brigitte met her husband when she was a 39-yearold high school teacher and mother of three and Macron was an intellectually precocious 15-year-old student, which caused a minor scandal. But the relationship lasted. Brigitte, 64, was omnipresent in her husband’s campaign, and advisers have learned: “To get to Emmanuel, you must go through Brigitte.”
The good news is France has proved that “the nationalist tsunami that has been sweeping” the West can be defeated, said Raphaël Glucksmann in Le Monde. France did not follow British Brexit or American Trump voters in choosing angry populism. Still, a huge swath of our people feel alienated, and we can’t just dismiss them. The 11 million French who voted for Le Pen are “not all atavistically racist,” just as the 16 million who abstained or spoiled their ballots “are not all apathetic.” The old Left-Right split is gone, and in its place we have the educated urban middle class versus the disgruntled rural working class. Fortunately, Macron seems to realize that he must reach out to the disaffected. But can “his individualistic philosophy” really heal our “social and moral identity crisis”? Macron’s fiveyear term will prove pivotal for France. ■