On the Move

Mnemonic devices can be useful. In France, the macaroon is mightier than the pen – or something. That may help American understand what just happened over there:

The centrist Emmanuel Macron won a landslide victory over his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, on Sunday, beating back her nationalist, anti-immigrant campaign to become the youngest president-elect in France’s history.

Voters strongly rejected Le Pen’s populist rhetoric in an election that posed one of the starkest choices the French have faced in a generation. Exit polls published immediately after voting closed showed Macron with 65% to Le Pen’s 35%, and Le Pen quickly conceded defeat.

“I want to wish him the very best,” she said of Macron.

But as Le Pen expressed gratitude to her voters, she also defiantly called on them to continue to stand up against the French establishment. She said her National Front – with its anti-immigrant, anti-European Union stance – was now the primary opposition party in France.

“I call on all patriots to take part in the decisive political battles that are beginning today,” she said. “Long live the Republic. Long live France.”

In other words, Le Pen’s thirty-five percent, like Donald Trump’s perpetual forty-percent, but not in power, will continue being a pain in the ass, throwing bombs (metaphorically) – but the macaroon was too sweet to resist:

The pro-EU, world-friendly Macron, 39, seeks closer ties and a deepening of relations across the European bloc. He encouraged French people not to be afraid of the expanding globalized economy and to look outwards.

Le Pen had threatened to close France’s borders, dump the euro currency and organize a Brexit-style referendum to pull France out of the EU. Her inward-looking program called for an end to immigration and for favoring French nationals for housing, healthcare, education and social benefits. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the far-right National Front in the 1970s.

The French remember her father – that angry old man saying the Jews were the problem – the Holocaust never happened – that was “fake news” (or “fake history”) and no more than whining – and that the Rothschild family and the rest of the Jewish bankers where trying to take over the world. It was Protocols of the Elders of Zion stuff and he got into serious legal trouble for that. Steve Bannon and Breitbart only hint at such things. Jean-Marie Le Pen didn’t hint at anything, and also he never got very far. Jean-Marie Le Pen endorsed Donald Trump early on, but the Trump team ignored him. So did his daughter. She knew better. Muslims were the problem. That was safe. Even Bridgette Bardot had said “my country, France, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners, especially Muslims.”

Sure, she paid a big fine for saying that, and more fines for saying that again and again, but there’s no one more French than Bridgette Bardot, even if she’s now eighty-two and no longer a sex kitten. Marine Le Pen should have been safe in saying exactly the same thing almost twenty years later, but she wasn’t. Emmanuel Macron kept talking about the Enlightenment – France’s gift to the world – the idea that thinking things through, without emotion and without bullshit, makes the world a whole lot better, and safer for everyone too. Emotional reaction leads to trouble. Emmanuel Macron was their No-Drama Obama, who actually endorsed Macron. Obama likes thinkers, not tweeters. France does too, for now.

Still there’s Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité, and Macron zeroed in on Fraternité:

Macron said he was grateful for the confidence French voters had shown him and that he had a message for Le Pen’s supporters: “I have heard your anger.”

He said he wanted to be president of “all French.”

“I understand the divisions in the country that have driven people to extremes, and I respect them,” he said in a speech at his Paris campaign headquarters that was broadcast to supporters gathered outside the Louvre Museum. “I understand the anger that many of you have expressed. It is my responsibility to hear you. I will fight with all my strength against the divisions that undermine us.”

After he spoke, the crowd sang the French national anthem, the Marseillaise.

Emmanuel Macron is not Donald Trump, who sneers at anyone who disagrees with him, like Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted. The Enlightenment hasn’t ended, even if the lights went out in America long ago, and Andy Borowitz plays with the implications of that:

On Sunday, the people of France annoyingly retained their traditional right to claim intellectual superiority over Americans, as millions of French citizens paused to enjoy just how much smarter they were than their allies across the Atlantic.

In bars and cafés across France, voters breathed a sigh of relief in the knowledge that arrogantly comparing themselves to the U.S. population, a longtime favorite pastime of the French people, would remain viable for the foreseeable future.

Pierre Grimange, a Parisian café-goer, sipped on a glass of Bordeaux and toasted his nation “for not being so dumb as the United States after all.”

“A lot was at stake today: the future of our liberal traditions and our democracy itself,” he said. “But by far the greatest loss of all would have been our right to look down on Americans.”

On the other hand:

Sitting a few tables away, Helene Commonceau, another Parisian, admitted that she did not understand what all of the celebrating was about. “We are smarter than the Americans, true, but they have set the bar very low, no?” she said.

That’s funny, and that hurts, even if it’s satire and thus entirely imaginary, or not, and of course it’s not that simple. It may take a Canadian to explain things, a French-Canadian, Thomas Guénolé, writing for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, from Paris, with this explanation of what’s really going on:

Today, most rich democracies are focused on two highly divisive issues. The first is economic globalization. On one side, there are those who believe globalization is a good system with mostly positive impacts on humanity and the Earth. On the other, there are those who believe this system brings high unemployment due to social and fiscal dumping, and increases inequalities to the precariat class, to the benefit of the richest one per cent: They are anti-globalization or alter-globalization voters.

The second highly divisive issue is minorities: immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ. On the one side, you have those who stand for equality of rights. On the other, you have those who stand for national priority – France first, or America first, as Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Trump campaigned on, and also those who stand against LGBTQ rights under the rhetoric of family values. Hence comes a political tension between pro- and anti-minorities voters.

That then yields four distinct groups:

There is an alter-globalization and pro-minorities bloc: It is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in Britain, Bernie Sanders in the United States and now Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France. They are the socialist bloc.

There is a pro-globalization and pro-minorities bloc: It is the Blairist part of Labour in Britain, Hillary Clinton in the United States and now Emmanuel Macron in France. They are the liberal bloc.

There is a pro-globalization and anti-minorities bloc: The most conservative part of the Tories in Britain, the establishment Republican Party in the United States and Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains in France. They are the conservative bloc.

Last but not least, there is an anti-globalization and anti-minorities bloc: It is UKIP in Britain, Mr. Trump in the United States and Ms. Le Pen in France. They are the xenophobic bloc.

That certainly complicates things, but someone is always voting against something:

There are two kinds of anti-system voting. The xenophobic one focuses on people from recent immigration as scapegoats for their own social distress: Ms. Le Pen, the UKIP, Donald Trump. The socialist one focuses on big corporations, finance and rich elites, considered guilty of building an unfair globalization: Mr. Mélenchon, Mr. Corbyn, Mr. Sanders.

How did this all play out in the French vote? Anne Applebaum suggests this:

Not since Napoleon has anybody leapt to the top of French public life with such speed. Not since World War II has anybody won the French presidency without a political party and a parliamentary base. Aside from some belated endorsements, he had little real support from the French establishment, few of whose members rated the chances of a man from an unfashionable town when he launched his candidacy last year.

That’s amazing, or not:

He was, it is true, extraordinarily lucky (luck being the quality that Napoleon said he most preferred in his generals). He benefited both from the flameout of Socialist President François Hollande, who decided not even to contest the election, and from a surprise series of personal scandals that dragged down the center-right’s candidate, François Fillon. But Macron was also extraordinarily prescient. He saw that there was an opening in France for a socially liberal, economically liberal, internationalist and optimistic voice. Fillon, like Prime Minister Theresa May in Britain, wanted to repackage nationalist policies into more acceptable language. Macron instead argued openly against the fear, nostalgia, nativism, statism and stagnation on offer from the rest of the political class.

He made no populist promises. He offered no impossible schemes or unattainable riches. And then he won.

It was that Enlightenment thing, and it worked, in spite of what has now become the usual nonsense:

Not only did Macron defeat the national socialism of Marine Le Pen, he also defeated what looks like a joint Russian/American attempt to derail him using material hacked from his campaign team and spread through bots and trolls on both sides of the Atlantic. We’ll learn more about the leak in the days that come – including the tantalizing possibility that Macron’s own team knew it was coming and deliberately confused the hackers.

But it’s already clear that the hack failed largely because the French media, and the French public, refused to let it succeed. Though the leak was published during France’s official pre-election news blackout, meaning that the French press kept away, disgust with its Russian origins seems to have persuaded ordinary French voters to stay away from it too, despite robust efforts to bring it to their attention on social media. This might represent a real change: Finally, Western voters are beginning to understand that the intent of a leaker is more important than the content of the leak.

Cool, but that doesn’t change things:

The future of Macron’s radical-centrist movement – in the rest of Europe as well as France – now depends on what Macron is actually able to achieve. Here is the obvious counterpoint to Macron’s victory, one which has been repeated by gloomier observers all evening: Though Le Pen lost by a greater margin than expected, she still attracted more votes than any National Front candidate ever had before. She represents real dissatisfaction with the economy, with terrorism, with immigration policy and with the privileged political class, though of course she is a part of that class herself. Macron will now have to address these issues. His center-left supporters may have to accept Thatcherite reforms; he has no party in the legislature right now to support him. The strength of his far-right opponents may grow.

Yes, Le Pen’s thirty-five percent, like Donald Trump’s perpetual forty-percent, will continue being a pain in the ass, but there may be a way to deal with that:

Macron can only succeed if he accepts that this is now the essence of politics in Western democracies: An open fight against the toxic appeal of false promises and divisive, nativist nostalgia. There is no point mourning the “normalization” of populism, or in trying to silence Le Pen and her many like-minded colleagues in Europe and the United States. They are here to stay, and they will only be defeated through open confrontation, a growing economy and better security, not censorship and shocked faces.

Macron’s first step in that direction came Sunday evening, in his first videotaped address after the election. Theresa May [in Britain] used her first major speech to jeer at her opponents as “citizens of nowhere;” the American president used his inaugural address to attack “American carnage” and underline his country’s divisions. Macron instead offered a “Republican salute” to Le Pen and her voters – and addressed himself to “all of you together, the people of France.”

That’s a start. And as for that hacking business, note this from Christopher Dickey:

As the news broke, suspicion focused on the same “Fancy Bear” Russian hackers who fiddled with the American presidential campaign last year. As The Daily Beast reported ten days earlier, they have been working hard for the election of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-European Union, anti-euro, anti-NATO, anti-American, Pro-Trump Le Pen.

Literally at the 11th hour, before the blackout would silence it, the Macron campaign issued a statement saying it had been hacked and many of the documents that were dumped on the American 4Chan site and re-posted by WikiLeaks were fakes.

The mainstream French media carried the Macron campaign statement, but virtually nothing else. In addition to the normal proscription of campaign “propaganda” on election eve, the government issued a statement saying specifically that anyone disseminating the materials in this dump in France could be liable to prosecution, and calling on the media to shoulder their “responsibility” by steering clear of them.

That would never happen here, as our media, for the ratings which determine revenue, will go with anything even vaguely likely, and there’s this:

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks jumped on the document dump, but didn’t seem to be familiar with the material in it. Responding to the Macron statement, that some of the items were bogus, WikiLeaks tweeted “We have not yet discovered fakes in #MacronLeaks and we are very skeptical that the Macron campaign is faster than us.”

Ah, but there’s the rub. As reported by The Daily Beast, part of the Macron campaign strategy against Fancy Bear (also known as Pawn Storm and Apt28) was to sign on to the phishing pages and plant bogus information.

“You can flood these [phishing] addresses with multiple passwords and log-ins, true ones, false ones, so the people behind them use up a lot of time trying to figure them out,” Mounir Mahjoubi, the head of Macron’s digital team, told The Daily Beast for its earlier article on this subject.

That’s an odd story, but it comes down to this – Macron’s team knew their servers were being mined, and by whom, so they set up password-protected false leads to what might be the really juicy stuff, and sent the Putin-Trump-Assange allies down a series of rabbit-holes that eventually led to nonsense, or to nothing at all, all the while enhancing the probers’ digital footprint with passages in Cyrillic and with Russian names. The Putin-Trump-Assange allies got played, big time.

Why didn’t Hillary Clinton’s team think of that? Plant stuff on the planters – Barack Obama is really Donald Trump’s love-child with a Kenyan woman, or Vladimir Putin is – that sort of thing. That would have been better than the whining from Hillary Clinton’s team, and it would have been a lot of fun, and the whole thing would have collapsed in its eventual absurdity. The French are clever bastards. No one ever said that of Hillary Clinton or of anyone on her team. Oh well.

Of course she doesn’t matter anymore. Someone else does, as John Judis notes here:

In the last week of France’s presidential election, posters sprung up picturing Marine Le Pen with Donald Trump’s hairdo. The message was clear. Saying “yes” to Le Pen was saying “yes” to Trump. Ads also ran advising voters “ne vous Trumpez pas,” a pun on the verb “tromper” meaning “do not deceive yourself.”

“We are smarter than the Americans, true, but they have set the bar very low, no?” Andy Borowitz was right:

After Trump’s upset victory in November, the European parties and politicians that were politically close to him expected to get a boost, but exactly the opposite has happened. In Austria last May, Green Party candidate Alexander Van den Bellen edged populist right candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party by .4 percent. A court heeded a Freedom Party protest and threw out the results and called for a new election. In December, in the wake of both Brexit and Trump’s victory, Van den Bellen easily defeated Hofer by 53.3 to 46.7 percent.

In Germany, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, which targeted immigrants and asylum-seekers, had seen its popularity grow in the wake of the Cologne New Year’s Eve riot. Would it join the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens, and Free Democrats as one of Germany’s major parties? But in subsequent elections, it has fallen flat, while the Christian Democrats, identified with German Chancellor’s Angela Merkel’s refusal to heed Trump’s bullying, has seen its vote rise. In March regional elections in Saarland in southwest Germany, Merkel’s party won 40.2 percent (up from 35.2 percent in 2012), while the AfD, which had previously been running as high as 16 percent in national polls, won only 6.2 percent. In elections this Sunday in Schleswig-Holstein the Christian Democrats increased their margin from 30.8 to 33 percent while the AfD was only 5.6 percent, falling well behind the other parties.

But perhaps the most telling result was in the Dutch elections March 15. For 18 months, Geert Wilders of the Party of Freedom had led all the parties in the polls. Wilders had expected to benefit from Trump’s victory, which he had celebrated as a “Patriotic Spring.” Wilders said, “We will see also in Europe that things will change, politics will never be the same and what I call the Patriotic Spring will have an enormous incentive. The lesson for Europeans is look at America. What America can do, we can do as well.” But Wilders got only 13.1 percent of the vote, well behind center-right Mark Rutte’s People’s Party, which got 21.3 percent. And the two parties that gained the most seats, the Left Greens and D66, were the most outspokenly opposed to Wilders’ anti-Islamic politics.

Something is up, and it may be this:

One factor is that Trump, with his strident dismissal of NATO and the European Union, his jibes against Merkel and Germany, his near-endorsement of Le Pen, united West Europeans the same way that George W. Bush did in 2003. Another factor, important in France, was that Trump’s blustering know-nothingness seems to have frightened and offended voters. In her debate with Macron on election eve, Le Pen’s own harsh rhetoric, combined with her refusal to get into details about her program, probably reinforced the impression that she was a French version of Trump, leading to a sharp drop in her polling numbers prior to the election.

Trump turned out to be poison, but Uri Friedman notes that Emmanuel Macron isn’t home free:

He doesn’t belong to a party and only founded his “On the Move” movement a year ago. But the political independence that proved an asset during the presidential campaign could become a liability during parliamentary elections in June.

Macron has promised to field On the Move candidates in every French electoral district, and polls suggest the movement could win more seats in France’s National Assembly than any other party – maybe even enough to achieve a majority in the 577-seat lower house, which would be astonishing for an organization that has only just burst onto the political scene.

If, however, Macron falls short of a majority, he will need to form a governing coalition with other parties. And if another party wins a majority, he will need to deal with that rival party, in a scenario the French refer to rather euphemistically as “cohabitation.”

That’s rather likely, and that’s trouble:

France’s traditional party system has imploded – and the risks of cohabitation and political dysfunction have returned. If an opposition party ends up controlling the National Assembly, Macron will likely be blocked from carrying out his ambitious policy agenda, which includes cutting government spending and giving employers more flexibility to hire, fire, and negotiate with employees. If he has to cobble together a coalition of diverse factions, he will have to painstakingly build support for each vote on each piece of legislation. As Francois Fillon, the Republican candidate who lost in the first round of the presidential election, memorably put it, Macron might have to again and again “cook up parliamentary dishes of impotence and compromises” – the very worst kind of French cuisine.

In these scenarios, the election of Macron would have the opposite effect of what his supporters intend: A man elected to finally get things done would struggle to get things done; a man elected to break with the traditional parties would have to work closely with them. Desires for political change and disillusionment with government might only grow.

Go back and read that French-Canadian, Thomas Guénolé – someone is always voting against something – but this is a uniquely French problem:

As the historian Aline-Florence Manent has pointed out, Charles De Gaulle designed the Fifth Republic so that it wouldn’t be dependent on political parties, which he viewed as sources of gridlock and instability. The founder of modern France “designed the Fifth Republic as a hybrid regime, combining the institutions of a parliamentary system with a powerful presidential office so that a crisis in the party system might not necessarily provoke a crisis of government,” Manent notes.

Macron’s presidency will “be a true test of the Fifth Republic as De Gaulle envisioned it,” she added. “So far, this has never really been tested, because the system developed into a de facto two party system.”

“It may have taken sixty years,” Manent writes, “but De Gaulle’s vision of the Fifth Republic could well be coming to a point of crisis.”

That’s not exactly cheery, but designing a political system that wouldn’t be dependent on political parties, because that only leads to gridlock and instability, must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Americans toy with that idea now and then. The last time around some people voted for Gary Johnson, for all the good that did – but France has decided to move on anyway. Disillusionment with government might grow, but it was time to move on, and it was time to forget Bridgette Bardot too.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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