Macron at Midterm
These are difficult days for political commentators. Politics-as-usual has given way to quarrels over the Covid-19 response. Commentators can choose one of two courses: concentrate on the errors, inevitably plentiful and satisfyingly concrete, of the powers-that-be, or speculate about the unknown and unknowable future, which offers an enticingly blank canvas to be filled with figments of one’s political imagination: Will it be globalized capitalism that disappears, or open borders, or everyday freedoms, or the corner pub and grocer?
French political commentary, as much at sea as political commentary everywhere, has filled the empty column-inches with two regular staples. As long as the Fifth Republic has existed, crises have given rise to rumors of tensions between the president and the prime minister. Will the president protect himself by jettisoning his prime minister, often likened to an electrical “fuse” (fusible in French) who is going to pop in order to prevent the surging currents of popular resentment from reaching the man at the top. Le Monde ran this old chestnut last week.
A second option presents itself, since the current quinquennat, is about to enter its fourth, i.e., penultimate, year. This provides the customary opportunity to reflect on the failure of the presidency to date and the need for the chief executive to “reinvent” himself if he is to have the slightest hope of re-election. Macron made indulging in this exercise all but inevitable by announcing that he would indeed be re-inventing himself any day now. Le Monde dutifully took up the offer to award him a failing grade for his work to date. Not that this distinguishes him from the previous three presidents: “Quelles qu’aient été les circonstances, chacun fut jugé infidèle à ses promesses et impuissant à résoudre les problèmes du pays.”
Oddly, the French newspaper of record seems to think that the central thrust of Macron’s appeal, the need to encourage innovation and efficiency in order to make French products more competitive in global markets, has been rendered irrelevant by the nation’s transfer of its affections to a new group of “heroes,” the “soignants, caissières ou éboueurs” (nurses, grocery store cashiers, and garbagemen). Without taking anything away from these new national heroes, Le Monde seems to have forgotten its own infatuation with Macron’s Kennedy-esque vigor when he was the candidate promising to shake the country from its phlegmatic slumbers.
The newspaper also appears to think that the anger of French citizens toward their government and its shortcomings in the present crisis is somehow unique. The editorial writers must have missed the photos of vigilantes carrying automatic weapons invading the Michigan statehouse. Such nombrilisme may be one of the reasons why a colleague of mine once compared Le Monde to a local paper in Omaha, Nebraska.
As for me, I have no doubt that Macron will be re-inventing himself in the coming months. So will we all. We have no idea what life will look like this fall, let alone in May of 2022. I’m not sure that Macron has taken the measure of the crisis, but I’m fairly certain that editorialists who recycle the tired old tropes of the political criticism of the past will have missed the mark.
P.S. Le Monde comes off considerably better in this reportage on a small provincial hotel, le Hôtel de France in Mende. Here one sees how Covid-19 could well do in an entire sector of the economy, la petite hôtellerie. I have a particular affection for these kinds of places, which often served me as bases for my forays into la France profonde. I hope they are not swept into the dustbin of history, to be replaced by Ibises, Sofitels, and Accors.