La rentrée (la mienne aussi)

28 August 2019

My apologies for the long hiatus in this blog. I’ve been translating Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capitalism and Ideology, which will be out in France on Sept. 12 and in English next spring. The manuscript was nearly a thousand pages, so I’ve been busy. But it’s done. Time to get back to French politics.

It was less than nine months ago that pundits were speculating about Macron’s mental health. The Gilets Jaunes had supposedly done in the previously invincible Wunderkind, who was said to be “exhausted” and “depressed.” But a new Macron was already in gestation, and he has adroitly stage-managed his rentrée. First, there was the triumphant G7, in which the young lion-tamer once again bravely confronted the yellow-maned self-anointed King of the Jungle. The beast was slathered with shameless flagornerie and apparently found it tasty. The opening to Iran was a coup de maître, even if it comes to nothing.

And lest anyone think that the president was merely using foreign policy summitry, as presidents so often do, as a mere fuite en avant, a way of avoiding the usual domestic chaos while still occupying (literally) center stage at Biarritz, perched on a platform picturesquely set against the blue Atlantic backdrop, Macron announced that he was contemplating a new formula for retirement reform, which would take into account quarters worked rather than set a fixed retirement age for everyone. No matter that he hadn’t (apparently) discussed this with the people supposedly in charge of drafting the details. It’s back to the drawing board for the peons. Jupiter (possibly in consultation with the all-important CFDT, without whose support any reform is doomed) has loosed a lightning bolt, and it’s a whole new ballgame.

The atmosphere is a bit reminiscent of the heady early days of Macron’s reign, when it seemed he could do no wrong. And just to put the icing on the cake, he expressly brought back those early days by announcing that Sylvie Goulard would be France’s choice for an EU commissioner slot, replacing Pierre Moscovici. Médiapart is already huffing that the suspicions of using fake parliamentary assistants that caused Goulard to resign as defense minister after only a month on the job should have ruled out this nomination. But that was then, when the new government’s ritual promises of being “exemplary” and never falling into the scandalous behavior that stained old governments were still being taken at face value; this is now, post-Benalla, post-Ferrand, post-Alexis Kohler, etc. etc. Exemplarity ain’t what it used to be, and the simple fact is that Goulard is eminently qualified for an EC post.

So we shall see. Retirement reform is still a highly fraught dossier, and the CGT isn’t having any of Macron’s new proposal, any more than it was having any of the old (“Does he take us for imbeciles?” Philippe Martinez asked, presumably rhetorically, yesterday). But how many divisions has Martinez? Mélenchon is out of the picture, the PS and LR are shadows of their former selves, and between Le Pen and Macron it’s back to à nous deux. From where Macron was last December to where he is today has been quite a journey. So even the news that super-mathematician Cédric Villani will buck the system to take on LREM’s designated but widely-disliked official candidate Benjamin Griveaux in the Paris mayoral election is but a small cloud hovering about the Olympian heights. Jupiter is back. The French may hate his arrogance, but as connoisseurs of monarchical style, they doff their hats before the energumen who even in shirtsleeves threw plenty of shade on the other six at the G7.


Photo Credit: The White House, President Donald J. Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France, via Flickr, Public Domain.




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