Monday

October 16th, 2017

Insight

The elites finally have something to cheer, but it's in France

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published May 9, 2017

The good news for the elites in the land of the free and the home of the brave, driven to the point of madness by the success of Donald Trump, is that they finally have something to cheer. The not-so-good news is that the something to cheer is not here, but in France.

Emmanuel Macron, 39, the former economics minister who grew up in the backwater of Amiens, the French equivalent of the American South (as the elites see it), was elected with a stunning 66 percent of the vote, dispatching Marine Le Pen to humiliating defeat.

She didn't seem to feel particularly humiliated, and went out for dancing after conceding graciously to Mr. Macron. When Hillary Clinton was similarly defeated it took her handlers until the next day to get her ready for a sober introduction to reality. Who says the French are never ready for prime time?

The French media called it a rejection of something called "Le Penism," which sounds like something crude and vulgar, but with the French, you never know. It does seem fair to call it a rejection of Trump-like populism, though trying to explain French politics in American terms is an exercise in futility. Madame Le Pen tried to adapt certain Trump tactics to her campaign and it clearly did not work.

She is still a factor in France, and her National Front may yet emerge as the strongest opposition party in the parliamentary elections next month, particularly since Mr. Macron has no party, merely a movement, called Onward! (with the exclamation point suddenly so popular on both sides of the Atlantic).

This makes Mr. Macron a particular anomaly in France, which you might think has enough political parties to accommodate everyone. The Republicans and the Socialists, once dominant, finished so miserably in the first round of voting that their losing candidates are still wandering through the weeds, looking for a friendly face, or at least a friendly bar.

Mr. Macron, who will become the president of France on Sunday morning, has never held public office but he has been a prodigy of the elites since he was a schoolboy. He was graduated from the National School of Administration, regarded as "the nursery of the French elite." He thus began his career at the top, and with all the charisma and dazzle one might expect from an investment banker, set out to find a place suitable to his reputation. He even married one of his teachers, 24 years his senior, spiking rumors, which he denied, that he is gay.

He is regarded as the consummate European, suave and sophisticated, as the Europeans measure these things, and embraced early the traditional resentment of "the Anglo-Saxons." He is particularly angry at the British for their exit from the European Union, which he exalts above all else. He calls Brexit "a crime," and vowed to make Britain pay for its heresy. When he met Theresa May, the British prime minister, at 10 Downing Street in February, he told her that Brexit would throw Britain into "servitude."

Brexit, he said, "cannot lead to a kind of optimization of Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe. I am very determined that there will be no undue advantages." This did not play well in Britain, whose secular hymn "Rule Brittainia," after all, promises that "Britons never, never will be slaves," and they have made good the boast on several occasions that his teacher-wife could recall for him.

Mr. Macron has since attempted to reassure the Anglo-Saxons that he didn't really mean the brash talk on the stump when he said he intended to "punish" them. (Can't anyone take a French joke?)

Mr. Macron's campaign team spent much of the day of the morning after tamping down the president-elect's campaign warning to the British to "expect consequences" for saying goodbye to Europe and all that. Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader and a member of Theresa May's government, replied that it would be the French who would suffer most in a cross-Channel trade war.

"The reality is," he told Mr. Macron through a British radio interview, "if you want to put French workers out of work, who rely on exports to the United Kingdom, the quickest thing you can do is make this thing a drama. If you want, however, to do well - and [France] sells much more to us than we do to them, then you want to come to some sort of deal that allows France to access our markets. If you are a French farmer who sells huge amounts of your agricultural goods, and they do, such as cheeses and everything else, the United Kingdom is an enormous market."

But resentment of the English is reassuring in a way. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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