The victory of enlightenment over populism. Or not.

While Marine Le Pen’s indisputable defeat is indeed great news for anyone who loves the values of liberal democracy, it is much too early to uncork champagne and start the celebrations.

By DAVID BRAHA
May 10, 2017 21:25
2 minute read.
EMMANUEL MACRON talks with residents during a presidential campaign visit yesterday in Bagneres de B

EMMANUEL MACRON talks with residents during a presidential campaign visit yesterday in Bagneres de Bigorre, France.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Vive la France! Emmanuel Macron is the new president of the République. This is the victory of progress over anger and frustration, of optimism over pessimism, of the European Union over selfish nationalism. This is the victory of enlightenment over populism. Or not.

While Marine Le Pen’s indisputable defeat is indeed great news for anyone who loves the values of liberal democracy, it is much too early to uncork champagne and start the celebrations.

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Today France is, as a matter of fact, a fractured nation. Macron triumphed with nearly 21 million votes. Yet, besides the 10 million voters who are so exhausted and embittered to have voted Le Pen, roughly 12 million constituents abstained, while another four million cast a blank ballot.

This makes Macron – a young and largely inexperienced politician who never held an elected office before – a minority president with a series of titanic challenges. From fighting terrorism to healing social gaps caused by modernization and globalization; from relaunching and revamping (and perhaps reforming) a dysfunctional EU, to facing an ongoing tidal wave of migration.

Furthermore, the media buzz over the failure of anti-establishment forces to conquer the presidency is also misleading.

True – Macron is in a way a son of the elites. He attended, for instance, prestigious schools such as Sciences Po and the École Nationale d’Administration – the cradle of public administration and civil service in France – and later served as an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque. Yet the mere fact that none of the traditional political parties made it to the second round is a sign that, in fact, anti-establishment currents have made their voices heard loud and clear.

So we have a fractured and frustrated nation, that elected on a narrow margin an inexperienced politician who reached the apex of power after years spent rubbing shoulders with financial and political elites, hoping that he will find creative solutions to nearly insurmountable problems. Sounds like the story of US President Donald Trump – doesn’t it? Despite their many (and obvious) differences in terms of character, message and values, the US president and his newly elected French counterpart do share a key feature: the socio-political environment they are operating in. Political parties implode, low and middle classes struggle, migration pushes, terrorism hits, while globalization and technology reshape the world faster than ever before. Simply put – the wind that filled Emmanuel Macron’s sails is the same wind that landed Trump in the Oval Office back in November.

Electing an inexperienced candidate to the highest office of a democratic country is a gamble – regardless of the person’s charm, or lack of thereof.

It is the symptom of a deficient political leadership, which fails to truly connect with the people and to understand the depth and gravity of their distress.

It is an act of protest against the status quo, a grim sign for the future.

So please – let us not romanticize Macron’s victory just yet. Let us give him some time, see which priorities he sets, how he operates, and whether he is really going to bring about some much-needed change – in France, in Europe and, perhaps, the world. Then, but only then, we shall celebrate.

Good luck, Monsieur le Président.

The author obtained a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University in New York. Today he is a senior analyst for an international consulting firm.


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