Audacious Macron must succeed lest French rage tear the republic apart France is still renowned (on occasion, rightly so) for irony, wit, grace and farce.
That quartet are pretty grown up attributes to cherish. Nonetheless, during the recent presidential election campaign, we travelled the length and breadth of the country before finding a single scintilla of wit then what we turned up was thin pickings indeed. Young socialists had disfigured the docks in a little Normandy town with posters depicting a face: the right half Marine le Pen, the other side Darth Vader, with a caption reading "I am my father". As if her own burden of xenophobia and incitement were not enough, the National Front leader was to be tagged with her dad's more overt racism, thuggishness and anti semitism. Sometimes, reality suffocates wit: just look at the Trump White House on any given day. oakley black iridium Not even the most gifted French farceurs would have imagined an election campaign so rich in somersaults and roller coasters. The incumbent president was hounded from office with historically atrocious polling figures. The prime minister resigned, expecting to be anointed in the Socialist primaries, only to be humiliated by his party faithful. Another former president was roundly thrashed in the conservative primaries. A former prime minister, even vainer, was entrapped in a grubby, greedy corruption scandal. With its leaks about that scandal, a satirical newspaper determined the outcome of the election. A mere quarter of French voters supported either of the established political parties. Having repudiated a president derided (accurately) for his resemblance to a penguin, the French elected a leader who looks disconcertingly like a Ken doll. That new President, if he runs again in five years, will still be younger than Barack Obama when he was first elected while his wife will be almost 70. Profound lessons may be drawn from such topsy turvy, but the most important is surely the simplest: those in power should beware the anger of voters. Wherever we went from the Vercors in the east down to the Riviera in the south, across to Normandy in the west, then back to Paris in the centre of France the French seemed disappointed, disenchanted, disillusioned and disposed to take all that out on those governing or seeking to do so. In a tiny country town like St Marcellin (famous for its wonderful soft cheese), shops were shut, young people had left, unemployment was high and the election posters seemed a parody of democracy. Stuck up on walls and fences, all the claims and the candidates seemed tired, stale and flat. In markets throughout the Riviera, we encountered no one canvassing for candidates, handing out leaflets or even encouraging the clients to vote. In Paris, candidates were grudgingly going through the old fashioned rituals on which French voters continue to insist: outdoor rallies, with numbers heavily inflated; interminably long, evasive interviews on television; a nostalgic show of interest in farm animals. That deference to democratic rites produced only diffidence verging on disdain. To adjust H. L. Mencken's remark about intelligence, in 2017, nobody went broke underestimating the anger of the French people. As the new Prime Minister noted in his first remarks, in living memory, there has never been such rage loose in the land. We have lived for years in France and love the place to bits. We have listened patiently as French friends build more indefensible intellectual Maginot lines, ones supposed to preserve their (flabby and costly) working conditions, their (whimsically overrated) international influence or their (strategically redundant) nuclear deterrent. We have watched as some of our favourite restaurants gave up and sold a "traditional hamburger" or distributed menus in English. We have tracked a lack of confidence extending as far as argot; no one in France any longer tells me to "notez bien", or "just listen up". I turned up at a soccer match featuring France's leading team, only to find that the star of the night was Che Guevara (advertising an energy drink) and the only available beverage was oakley glasses mens non alcoholic beer (so soapy watery it might have been Budweiser). In bookshops, the predictably large sections on French politics were jam packed with volumes assailing the "vultures" and "predators" controlling the republic, or deploring the "circus" or farce that politics had become. We have tried to understand how, for the French, the past is not another country. Only France now conducts its government from a palace. History in France lives on in the present continuous tense. France's past was fought over yet again during the election campaign, whether in debates about culpability for the wartime deportation of the Jews, squabbles about the supposed criminality of France's colonial rule in Algeria, or a deeply misguided digression when Macron compared himself to Joan of Arc. I give some credence to the view that France has never quite recovered from June 1940, the most sudden and shocking collapse of any great power ever. Campaign rhetoric focused for a time on the typically abstract, somewhat grandiose question of whether French culture actually existed. They should have known the answer was ready to hand, out in the streets, cafes or markets. Behind grinding, grating contempt for politicians, life went on. More to the point, the air brushed, illusion raddled French notion of how life should be lived went on. France has never quite recovered from June 1940, the most sudden and shocking collapse of any great power ever. In depressed St Marcellin, the celebrated local cheese was still served with fresh walnuts, wild strawberries and candied clementines. In Antibes market, the new oakley sunglasses 2016 dried figs, sugared strips of lemon and knobbly sausages were as succulent as ever. In Granville, on the Normandy coast, shopkeepers sold at ludicrously cheap prices boxes of oysters packed in straw, to be followed by tubs of lobster and crab. At the bakery, every fourth croissant was free. Everyone we ran into was prepared to be agitated about Macron and le Pen, especially when Macron disheartened his supporters by frivolously wasting half the time between the two rounds of elections. National debate, though, was also tugged in other directions, into arguments about canonising a priest killed by fundamentalists or photoshopping Claudia Cardinale's body for the Cannes film festival poster. (That gracefully ageing actress reportedly welcomed any cosmetic enhancements.) Although the polish might have been knocked off French politics, France's stars still appeared to possess more lustre, more sheen than any elsewhere, in politics (with Elisabeth Guigou and Rama Yade) as in film (Audrey Tautou and Marion Cotillard come to mind). Macron already enjoys his fair share of lustre and sheen, but that is not enough. He now has two more legislative elections to contest, then five years to govern. He needs to overcome lack of a parliamentary majority, teething pains for his new party, a stubbornly oakley whisker high unemployment rate and threats of further terrorist attacks, let alone prurient stories about his older wife and odious rumours about alleged affairs. He could profitably stop suggesting that disagreements with his policies reflect a lack of understanding among his critics. If Macron succeeds, France could succeed, and Europe might as well. If he fails, then the accumulated, unsated rage might be fearsome to behold. Macron might be well advised to put his banking background and his air of superiority aside for a moment to take counsel from an old, true French hero. Across and up the river from his new palace home, on the Boulevard St Germain, Macron could pause at the statue of the revolutionary leader, Georges Danton.
Danton recommended to his peers "l'audace, encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace". Audacity, again and always, might be a quality the electorate would actually be relieved to endorse. After all, pure audacity has propelled Macron to leave government, form his own party, win a national election, and move into the Elysee.
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