France Has a New President

May 9, 2017 at 9:11 am Leave a comment

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Photo by Adrian Leeds.

It’s been a campaign that was short by U.S. standards (but long by French ones). And most of the time fairly civilized (by U.S. standards), but “brutal” by French ones. The voter turnout was surprisingly low by French standards. (It was close to 70% at 5 pm, three hours before the polls closed. For some reason I haven’t been able to find the total figure 😦 ) This of course is very high by American standards. (Though it is also somewhat deceiving by American standards, since French voters have the option of voting, but voting basically for no one (it’s called vote blanche), and this time a fair number of them chose to do that. 

Anyway, it’s over now, and France has a new president. Much of the world, especially the democratic world, was holding its breath over this one, hoping that France would not elect Marine LePen, the far-right candidate who faced off with Emmanuel Macron in the second and final round, which ended yesterday with a decisive victory for Macron (66% to 34%).

So. For a lot of people in France, including a lot of people who voted for Macron despite being anywhere from strongly unenthusiastic to mildly-hopeful-but-not-at-all sure about him, his election came as a huge relief. And then there were some (quite a few, in fact) who have dared to speak of feelings of hope, even elation, about the new president-elect. (He’s being compared to Kennedy, Obama, and even Napoleon–which is, in case you’re wondering, in France, mostly/usually a positive thing).

For another significant number of people in France of course, it was a disappointment. They are the ones who voted for Marine LePen.

It’s a big job this very young man (only 39 years old) has before him. But I think he has the brains, heart, strength, courage, and conviction to do a good job.

In my opinion, the biggest question is whether he will be able to get the majority of the French people to work with him to begin to solve some of the difficult, deeply entrenched problems they face, even in this country which is, after all, a pretty good place to be. And whether he can gather that kind of support and cooperation is not yet at all clear. It would appear there won’t be much of a honeymoon period.

What is pretty clear is that unlike in our recent presidential campaign, a debate between the two candidates for the presidency in which one candidate was clearly well prepared, well qualified, and has the right temperament for the job and the other one was not so well prepared, not so clearly well qualified, and who, instead of giving substantive answers to substantive questions had a tendency to spin them in such a way as to attack her opponent and to appeal to peoples’ fears and prejudices rather than their intelligence and their concerns. In France that kind of performance in a debate can still hurt a candidate. And it did. Apparently even many of LePen’s supporters were not very impressed with her performance in that debate.

That is certainly not the whole reason Emmanuel Macron is now president of France and Marine LePen is not, it is far more complicated than that. But I think it’s at least part of the reason. I’ll have more to say about this kind of thing in a future post. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a long, long time; the anti-intellectualism that in my opinion is one of two Achilles heels that will bring the U.S. down once and for all, if it hasn’t already. (The other one is racism.)

But never mind all that for now. Now is the time to celebrate the intelligence of French voters, the seriousness with which they carried out their democratic duty, and the handsome, smart, energetic young president to whom they’ve entrusted this awesome responsibility.

Sunday night, after walking–very much alone, seriously and solemnly–out from the shadows, into the light of the I.M. Pei pyramid at the Carrousel du Louvre, with Beethoven’s beautiful Ode to Joy (which apparently is the European Union’s anthem, who knew that before? Not I!)– he  gave his victory speech. He promised to serve the French people with humility, dedication, and even love. I’m not entirely sure, but I think a president promising to serve his people with love might be a first. In any case, I like it.

Then, after his speech, he was joined by his family and they–and the crowd–heartily sang La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, which is a stirring call to arms.

There is much that is important–and to me anyway, moving–symbolism in all of that. Macron ran on a platform of France remaining firmly committed to the success and endurance of the European Union, while still defending and protecting French interests and values. So–Ode to Joy first, La Marseillaise second. Each have their place. And who wouldn’t prefer joy to battle, if given the choice? Marine LePen insisted in her concession speech that the choice before the French people was between patriotism and mondialism. Macron is insisting that the way forward is not a matter of either/or but of both/and. It’s a more complicated message, but also a much more hopeful one. At least that is what I think.

Here’s wishing Emmanuel Macron strength, courage, and success in his presidency. And of course, wishing the same to the French people. I believe that the two are inextricably intertwined.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer, in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY

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