“Two White Males”
I try to stay positive about Emmanuel Macron, recognizing that a failure of his presidency–and let’s be clear: the last two French presidencies have ended in abject failure–could well prove disastrous for the country. And there is much to admire in what the president likes to call his “method”: the sense of dynamism he is able to impart to government, the ability to move on many fronts at once, the admirable support, at least on the rhetorical level, for Europe and for domestic modernization, the mastery of the bureaucracy, the enthusiasm for new technology and for a multicultural France.
But there are also moments when one scratches one’s head and asks, Why is he doing this? Why is he saying what he’s saying? Doesn’t he realize how arrogant he seems? Doesn’t he see that he’s rubbing salt in open wounds?
One such moment occurred yesterday, when Macron summoned the mayors of many struggling urban centers to listen to him heap contempt on a report on urban renewal that he himself had commissioned. He dismissed the work of Jean-Louis Borloo, who I thought had made a splendid case for a new approach to French urbanism in Le Monde a while back, as “yet another ‘Marshall Plan’ for the suburbs” and ridiculed as absurd the idea that “two white males” (he and Borloo) would decide where to spend money in towns with majority minority populations.
Well, he might have a point about diversity. He could, for instance, have invited representatives of the troubled suburbs to sit in on his meeting today with high-tech CEOs from around the world, whose company he clearly finds more congenial than that of angry mayors wondering how they’re supposed to cope with a whole litany of urban problems if the state is unwilling to lend its assistance and is in fact busily cutting the mayors’ sources of revenue in the name of reducing the deficit.
One mayor said on RTL this morning that she had walked out of Macron’s presentation after he used the word “clientelism” for the third time. She thought it implied an insulting view of how government operated at the local level. And it would not be surprising if Macron were ignorant of local politics. La République en Marche has no local elected officials, after all, not having existed at the time of the last municipal elections. And Macron, whose political career has been entirely unconventional, has never had to court municipal councillors or leaflet Sunday markets.
The president understands the inner workings of la haute administration. This is important for a French president. It can carry him a long way. But he also needs the support of people on the ground. Macron is operating in a false paradise because of the absence of cohesive opposition at the national level. This may not last. It will not last. Thus far he has been able to do pretty much as he pleases without worrying about whom he alienates. But when voters next go to the polls, it will be in the 2019 European elections. Traditionally, this has been an occasion for venting anger at the government in place. Macron’s comeuppance could be severe if he continues to antagonize unions, mayors, and the left-leaning parts of his own movement. Questions are being raised about the success of his “startup nation” strategy.
The boy wonder president may yet turn out to be his own worst enemy.