Emmanuel Macron has stolen the thunder of the Gilets Jaunes by embarking on a Magical Mystery Tour. Calling the traveling Macron show a Grand Débat National is an ingenious camouflage. Jupiter’s descent among the people, “ceux qui ne sont rien,” is nothing less than a brilliantly stage-managed road show. But will it prove to be a farewell tour, the final extravaganza of a once-promising rock band that has passed its sell-by date, or the beginning of En Marche!’s Second Révolution [sic, ©]?
The media are dazzled. The coverage is reminiscent of the favorable, not to say adoring, coverage Macron received during the campaign. The president’s huge crowds are measured, his appearances are timed (7 hours in Grand-Bourgtheroulde, an astounding 15 hours at the Salon de l’Agriculture, beating even Chirac’s record, although Chirac clearly knew one end of a cow from the other, while Macron’s expertise in this area may be questioned). The change of stratégie com’ is total, from la parole rare à la faconde intarissable.
And one has to hand it to Macron’s location scout: Grand-Bourgtheroulde! The name alone speaks volumes, its resonant syllables by themselves conjuring up torpid summer days in la France profonde, like the opening shot of one of those back-to-the-roots movies in which the camera moves slowly over golden fields as a rural bus wends its way along a winding country road, bearing a bored Parisian back to her birthplace and a rekindling of life’s flame among the good unspoiled provincial folk. Souillac! Evry-Courcouronnes! And of course the indelible images of Macron among the SDF, kneeling before the poor, captured for posterity by the official presidential photographer lest this invaluable refutation of the charge of presidential arrogance go unnoticed before the bar of History.
Meanwhile, the numbers of demonstrators wearing gilets jaunes has been declining. But has Macron really regained the initiative? LRM is once again edging out Le Pen’s party in polling for the European elections in May, but the low expected turnout suggests that Macron, unlike de Gaulle in ’68, has not galvanized a silent majority to shore up a beleaguered presidency. The president’s versatility before the legions of questioners is not in doubt, but no clear policy response to the issues raised by the Gilets Jaunes has yet come into view. Macron is temporizing and improvising, with remarkable skill to be sure, but at some point he will have to act, and one has the sense that the smoldering anger in the country has not subsided, even if for the moment the media are distracted by le spectacle Macron.