Yes, another post on Macron. I’m not obsessed, I swear. He really is the most interesting thing in Europe right now.
Traditionally, the President of France is to levitate over party politics. It is the job of the Prime Minister to debase himself in the rough and tumble of the political system. Of course, presidents over the years have taken different approaches, but it is in the best interest of the resident of the Élysée Palace to be a supported head of state, just as the Her Majesty the Queen is here.
With the mixture of figures from the traditional right and left of his country in his cabinet, Emmanuel Macron appears to be doing just that – levitating. He claims to be neither left nor right and, though this is a political stance in itself, it nevertheless puts him in the best position to be an ambiguous mind who can criticise whomever he wants. As it stands, Macron has no real opposition. The far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon is currently aiming to fulfil the role of the main opposition to En Marche !, but how successful he will be is uncertain without the support of the mainstream left. In France, the centrist dawn has shed light on its confusing political divisions.
Such dividing lines fall between the ‘extremes’ and the ‘moderates’. Quickly, many députés for the traditional right-wing party, Les Républicains, have knelt down in support for their new president. Indeed, the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, is a member this party. The former Socialist Party prime minister, Manuel Valls, has now left his party and sits in parliament in support of En Marche !, similar to his colleagues (what little of them there are) who, though may not have left in the same way as he, are supporting the president’s new party. This divide, I think, would occur in the U.K. if a credible centrist movement was to arise, though that discussion is for another time.
As a result of this tyranny of the moderates, Macron can have a tyranny of his own. In his book ‘Macron Par Macron‘ (which I have yet to read), the new president reveals his royalist sympathies. He feels that the end of the French monarchy was not something his country wanted or needed. This is rare for a president in a republic, and more so for a man considered by so many to be some liberal idol. It would seem that, despite all his modernity (his portrait contained in the background two iPhones to symbolise his future gaze), the president is swayed heavily by his country’s traditions. This brings conflict with the right’s criticisms of him as wanting to harm or ignore French culture – the man himself is enamoured by it. As a young man, his grandmother gave him passion for literature; he’s a known fan of Molière, and video exists of him quoting some of his drama by heart. So can he really hate his country that much?
I believe that recent events have shown him to be less culturally weak than critics have accused him of. In his Monday speech, Macron repeatedly used the term ‘Islamism’ to describe terrorism without skirting around the problem in order not to seem ‘Islamophobic’, contrasting Barack Obama, who seemed to have been a fan of the new president. In fact, it’s often considered taboo on the left to even name the ‘I’ word in relation to terror, since many ignorantly claim that Islamist extremism has “nothing to do with Islam”. Macron’s lack of restraint in using the word shows he is not one of those people, and is not an Obama – rather, he has common sense. He was criticised on the campaign for not mentioning the issue of Islamism (indeed I was one of those critics, and I do not regret that), but here, with his strong words on rooting out terrorists “without pity” and with previous words on the Burkini ban, claiming it is a public order issue in alignment with laicité, it seems Macron does not want to appear a weak man.
This all points to the image of the man as an anti-populist. Unlike many of his opponents, who promised to be presidents for the people in their election campaigns, Macron has no interest in getting his hands dirty by acting like an ordinary person (somewhere he, once again, contrasts to the burger joint presidency of Obama). Whereas Mélenchon wanted to end the monarchie presidentielle with major reforms, Macron wants to increase presidential power and, indeed, appeared at Versailles to tell the audience of députés that they would be cut in numbers by a third. He has also ditched the traditional July 14th interview, perhaps in a way to remove himself from the showbiz image of previous presidents and create mystery around his image. Indeed, his mystique has also been established by his use of symbols – in his portrait, and in the buildings in which he chooses to meet people, for example. He has been compared to the god Jupiter by his critics and allies alike, himself calling for a Jupiterian presidency which he seems likely to implement.
But as the ancient historian Cassius Dio makes it known, there have been other leaders to compare themselves to Jupiter. Caligula was one, the young Roman emperor who abused his power and met a violent end as a result. He is ridiculed as a maniac in the history books, and is far from being the majestic figure he perhaps would have liked to appear to be. Of course, I will not claim that Emmanuel Macron will kill opponents indiscriminately and indulge in sexual deviations. But is he perhaps destined to be ridiculed just as his fellow youthful leader was almost 2000 years ago?
The answer to this question seems increasingly likely to be yes, and it’s not necessarily the new president’s fault. In his portrait, Macron’s iPhones symbolise the exact thing that will kill his desired image – the modern age. As we live on and with the internet, and the television, nobody has privacy. No angles in any public event go uncovered. Because of this, whereas presidents of old ages could quite easily control public perceptions of themselves, Macron can just as easily be demeaned by those sitting at home on their laptops.
It doesn’t help, either, that the man himself is only small. He speaks, additionally, in metaphorical language easy to ridicule, and indeed his demand for the French people to “pensez printemps” was ridiculed by fellow presidential candidates.
The result of our liberty in the internet age means that our politicians are no longer mysterious figures, but are people like ourselves. They are forced into showbiz and meme culture, which means that not one single public figure lives without ridicule. It is for precisely this reason that Macron’s attempted Jupiter image of mystery and power does not work – it makes him look like a pompous fool without self awareness.
While writers may cherish the pieces they write on the new president’s image and ideals, what we should really be focussing on is whether the public are buying it.