Le Traître et le Néant
The title, with its nod to Sartre’s L’Être et le Néant, is probably all that one needs to read, but Davet and Lhomme, the duo who put the final nails in the coffin of François Hollande’s failing presidency, are back with another pre-campaign summa, this one aimed squarely at Emmanuel Macron, whom they helped put in office in 2017. Le Traître et le Néant is an archly concise encapsulation of the two main charges against Macron: first, that he is two-faced and untrustworthy, and second that at his core he stands for nothing, that for all his charm and surface brilliance, so seductive at times to some, he is ultimately an empty suit.
The book is not yet available in the US (it arrives on my birthday, Nov. 17), but you can hear its authors discuss it on RMC’s aptly named Les Grandes Gueules. It seems that François Hollande–the original grande gueule— talked freely to the two reporters, despite their having contributed to his demise because he chose to speak freely to them during his own presidency. Either some guys never learn, or vengeance, though a dish best served cold, is invariably too savory to pass up.
Fans of la petite histoire will find much to chew on in these pages, including the fact that after Hollande’s dog chewed on Brigitte Macron’s sunglasses, she sent the then-president of France a bill for the damages. I’m not sure whom this story is supposed to reflect badly on: Brigitte, for lèse-majesté, François for repeating the anecdote to his gossip-mongering amanuenses, or the dog, for its lack of discernment. We also learn from Pierre Moscovici that Macron doesn’t “know the French, [and] doesn’t resemble them,” in return for which they “dislike him,” which is odd, because I remember a 2017 conversation with a source very close to the person who is today le premier président de la Cour des Comptes, who assured me that Macron was indeed as brilliant as his acolytes asserted. To be sure, there is no contradiction here: the brilliant fellow may bear very little resemblance to l’homme moyen sensuel and may not be much liked in return. But it seems unfair to represent the trait as a quality when the fellow is on the upswing and a defect when he is on the way down. Et pourtant, à la guerre comme à la guerre.
As for l’homme moyen sensuel, Le Monde, the home base of Davet and Lhomme, has chosen today to launch a series on the election as seen from la France profonde. So in Fragments de France we visit, among other places, a beauty parlor in Arpajon, a textile factory in Hirsingue, a rock (read all about it: the story is interesting) in Féchain, and a vaccination center in Forcalquier. (Note for US readers: This is the French equivalent of the NY Times practice of sending reporters out to diners in Iowa, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Idaho to collect snippets of the supposedly authentic vox populi.)
What bearing the local concerns encountered in these places have on the presidential race is unclear, but at least Le Monde will have cleared itself of the charge of attending only to the Parisian microcosm. One almost feels for Macron, since it isn’t exactly apparent how such a brilliant fellow is supposed to make himself more like, and more liked by, the patrons of Melina’s beauty salon or the adepts of non-traditional medicine in Forcalquier–admirably “ordinary” folks who seem to evince little interest in pension reform, the rule of law in the European Union, or relations with China, let alone Brigitte’s sunglasses. But therein lies the problem of democratic centralization, and even Tocqueville’s vaunted faith in intermediary bodies and associations seems unlikely to close the chasm between Jupiter’s craggy summit and the Valley of Despond in which the citizens of France arrange to have their hair done on Friday mornings before medicating themselves with healing herbs later in the afternoon.
I feel the president’s pain. Meanwhile, Zemmour has overtaken Le Pen in the latest poll published by the Financial Times, and the presidential race has become, as sports commentators like to say, a whole new ball game.
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Thank you for one of the funniest columns you have ever penned. I particularly like “it isn’t exactly apparent how such a brilliant fellow is supposed to make himself more like, and more liked by, the patrons of Melina’s beauty salon or the adepts of non-traditional medicine in Forcalquier –admirably “ordinary” folks who seem to evince little interest in pension reform, the rule of law in the European Union, or relations with China, let alone Brigitte’s sunglasses”.
–I’m not so sure about Brigitte’s sunglasses, but it’s a small point.
In thinking about the French in the “arrière pays”, I’m reminded of “Pépe”, the “ordinary”, willfully ignorant. anti-Semitic peasant played by Michel Simon in Claude Berri’s autobiographical film “Le Vieux Homme et l’Enfant” (“The Two Of Us” in the English-speaking world). As Joe Louis said (in an entirely different context:
“–There’s some people, that if they don’t know –you just can’t tell ’em.”
“Emmanuel Macron, forgive them if they vote you out of office in favor of Eric Zemmour, Marine or Marechal Le Pen or Xavier Bertrand –or worse.
–For they know not what they do –while Davet and Lhomme certainly do !”