Monday, May 8, 2017

France's landslide of hope

CAN YOU play ‘La Marseillaise’? Play it, and don’t wait for Rick Blaine to tell you it’s OK. Play it loud and long, turn the speakers in the direction of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and crank the volume up to 11 — on Twitter. That’s one way we can be sure that what happened over the weekend in France resonates with President* Trump and the rest of the all-wrong world of the alt-right.

Early Sunday, the news was out: Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate in the French presidential election, had defeated Marine Le Pen, the isolationist-leaning right-wing National Front candidate, in an election characterized by many as a choice between nothing less than light and darkness. The vote has positioned Macron, 39, to become the youngest president in the history of France, and its youngest leader since — wait for it — Napoleon.

In an election that was a statistical landslide — Macron beat Le Pen 65 percent to 35 percent, give or take — the French Republic made a presidential choice that was both a dramatic generational change and a strong signal that France, symbolized by its youngest leader in modern times, will very much contend for a leadership role in the shaping of what’s ultimately forged in the crucible that is Brexit-era Europe.

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And either because of those two factors or in spite of them, Macron’s victory as a centrist — in a France roiled with a rising immigration challenge and racked by terrorist violence perversely timed to sway the election — sends an unmistakable signal to the purveyors of the nativist campaign business model.

Stephen Bannon, White House Trump consiglieri, suffers a straight-up repudiation of his plans, via his Breitbart News empire, to templatize the nativist perspective, starting with new web sites based in Germany and France late last year. First step in a global ALEC.

Last year, Bannon was the height of confidence when he talked to The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone, who quoted Bannon from a conversation in July: “So, we look at themes globally as the center-right populist revolt against the permanent political class. Whether that’s [conservative author and political consultant] Peter Schweizer hitting on crony capitalism, or our guys in London following Front National in France. It’s all of one theme. We think that (pro-Brexit UK politician) Nigel Farage will be a politician that rises one day, Donald Trump the next. But it’s a bigger, tectonic plate.”

“And that’s why we kind of laugh at, particularly cable news and sometimes other sites that, they sit there and they’re so wrong on everything.

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IT’S FAIR to say that Macron’s win shows the breadth of that geopolitical “tectonic plate,” the “bigger” he describes, has yet to be confirmed, or even proven. Coming after rejections of nativist and anti-immigrant thinking in Austria’s recent election, France’s support of a centrist agenda shatters the gathering sense of inevitability that the nativists have tried to cultivate in the wake of Trump’s installation. There have also been recent denunciations of the so-called populist agenda in Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.

It’s not all over yet. Ryan Cooper reports in The Week: “There are legislative elections next month, where the National Assembly will be selected. If Macron or parties sympathetic to him don't win a majority, President Macron could be in 'cohabitation' with an unfriendly parliament — akin to divided government in the United States, and similar in terms of the resulting gridlock.” More widely, the German elections are set for September; a victory for the anti-immigration populists there would elevate their status in the one European nation that, on the basis of history, has a powerful vested interest in resisting such a slide back into intolerance. Such an event could reinvigorate populist fear-mongering in other elections across the continent.

But for now, it seems, the weight of recent events, the pendulum-swing apparent, is moving the other way. Macron’s victory in France is more than just a win for a charismatic, forward-thinking leader, as impressive as it was. It’s also a victory for the idea that such a resounding, uplifting win is still possible in a time of deep skepticism and corrosive fear.

France just got buried by a landslide of hope. What’s not to love?

Image credits: Macron: Via Los Angeles Daily News. Bannon: Carol Allegri/Reuters.

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