Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Macron needs another reboot

The French people are not happy. Can their President do anything to change that?

The political temperature in France continues to rise, the mood bubbling up as the Covid-19 quarantine is unwound. The number of French victims of the virus is now rising at a mercifully slower rate, with a mortality rate that is comparable to seasonal influenza. But the economic and fpolitical ramifications of the prolonged shut down are now becoming clear.

Economists predict that France’s GDP will contract by 10 to 11.5 per cent in 2020. The country continues the “déconfinement” process as well as a lumbering reopening after its Covid-induced moment as a comprehensive social welfare state. Some French conservatives and free marketeers have began to predict that the transition of the economy to “forms of government clientism”, however briefly, will only serve to increase calls for socially unsustainable levels of spending in the future.

This is the backdrop to Sunday’s speech by French President Emmanuel Macron. He will deliver his fourth major Coronavirus presidential address to the nation from the Elysée Palace.

On Friday, in preparation for the address, he convened both his scientific council and the national defense council along with Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, and the ministers of health and economy. The signals from the Elysée acknowledge the fact that Macron’s approach needs a rethink. They are a de facto acknowledgement that the crisis was at least somewhat mishandled and that the French people are not happy.

There has even been speculation that Macron is considering a nuclear option. But, on Thursday, Politico’s well-connected correspondent Rym Momtaz reported that the presidential administration “denied a media report claiming that President Emmanuel Macron had suggested that he might resign and call early elections in a videoconference with a group of his super donors”.

On social media, the political class dissected this muted non-denial of the rumors of his potential, possible, pending, probable non-resignation, and of likelihood on calling early elections for the sake of rebooting a presidency which once again seems to be floundering. Something consequential and substantive for French politics will definitely take place on Sunday, but what exactly?

***

At the start of the week, British and Belgian demonstrators had began to emulate the developments in America. From Bristol to Antwerp, they began toppling the statues of historically “problematic” and racist figures. Churchill’s statue in London is hidden behind protective steel and even Mahatma Gandhi did not prove to be progressive enough to escape calls for his statue in Leicester be removed.

A parallel set of protests took place this week in Paris, if on a much smaller and more subdued scale (certainly nothing like the 20,000 people who gathered in front of the Palais de la Justice last week). The export and emulation of American Black Lives Matters style protests against the brutal police killing of George Floyd has fed the parallel protest movement in France, despite the formal mismatch those arguments about statues have with the actual situation in France.

There is no equivalent at all in France to the Belgian statues of Leopold II (one of whose statues was taken down in Antwerp). Unlike in America, Belgium, Russia or the UK, there simply are no statues to evildoers worth toppling in France — unless perhaps one counts Napoleon. This is, of course, not for lack of looking for those equivalencies, nor is it to deny the legitimacy of the grievances cited by either African Americas or Frenchman of African or Middle Eastern descent, which are real enough, but to point out that those problems are particular and have only passing resemblances to those of African-Americans and the inarguable brutality of American law enforcement which date back to the foundation of the Republic.

There is of course the bizarre, but (to an American citizen) oddly satisfying aspect of observing the formalised argot of American academic emulations of 1970s and 1980s anti-colonial French theory being exported back to France in a popular form through the power of American television. No less bracing was listening to Marion-Marechal-Le Pen, the photogenic blond progenitor of the Le Pen political project as she used that very same language to reject any claims of grievance on the French nation.

Most of what the youngest Le Pen said while fluently deploying the vocabulary of “intersectionality” and “white privilege” about not feeling the need to to apologise as a “white woman” and “not having any ancestors who were engaged in the slave trade” were on one level an understandable enough rejection of essentialist identitarian dogma; but the speech and its delivery still managed to sound unmistakably mendacious, racist and chauvinist. The younger Le Pen was publicly chastised by her aunt Marine for “falling into the rhetoric of “indigénistes” and “racialists” as well as the trap of “Americanization”. 

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