Solomon: Moving Forward

Macron’s victory captures our changing political reality.

by Ioana Solomon | 5/9/17 12:25am

When French president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s victory in Sunday’s election was announced, my first reaction was a breath of relief. My second was an inane little voice inside my head whispering, “Oh, no. It’s still just us.” The fact that Front National candidate Marine Le Pen failed in France — and by a wide margin — while President Donald Trump succeeded in the United States gives us one less excuse for our now cartoonish image on the world stage.

Of course, nationalism also prevailed in the United Kingdom, and Brexit is well on its way, but it is now far harder to make the claim a Le Pen victory would have warranted — that the extremism and xenophobia exemplified in our administration’s platform and daily discourse belongs to a global wave that was far too strong for the Democratic Party to block. Clearly, we drowned under that wave. But France did not.

For those of us standing against the far right, Macron’s victory needs to feel like more than just weight lifted off. It is good news and a reason to feel relief and joy. But it is also an opportunity for self-reflection. Over the next few months, we will need introspection to figure out why we have Trump while France does not have Le Pen. We must reflect on the factors that drove us to our current economic, social and political junction. That is the only way we are going to understand what happened, provide solutions to those who felt excluded and move forward. We have done a lot of looking inward, but France’s election result gives us an opening to look outward, to compare, review and effectively correct our course.

A few parallels are worth noting. Macron represents change and much of what made him appealing to the French electorate is also what drew many Americans to punch a ballot for Trump. At the age of 39 and with no significant history of political commitment, Macron was at first an unlikely contender. Despite being a graduate of France’s foremost administrative university, Macron has never held elected office. He is notably a former Rothschild investment banker who ran on a vague agenda, offering a platform that was enticing because of its general optimism but lacking specificity. Macron’s outsider status and anti-establishment appeal has to ring a bell. It is perhaps that aspect which fueled his rise and less so the content of his promised policies.

We can never know for sure, but had Sen. Bernie Sanders been the candidate facing Trump in the general election, American voters would have had two similarly anti-establishment choices, both candidates promising radical change. The revolution’s direction would have mattered more than the candidate committing to it.

The 34 percent of votes garnered by Le Pen — and France’s historically high abstention rate, including the worst turnout since 1969 — is still concerning. It means that Macron will not have an easy time building support for his program, but also that nationalism, xenophobia and an extremist call for divisive authority are not forces we can ignore. They did not succeed now, but left unchecked, it may have a chance in five years. A far-right global movement is a reality, but what the American and French elections show us may be the key to stopping it.

Posing hard questions, having thoughtful conversations and reflecting meaningfully are still necessary, but the first thing we know is that the people winning elections and wielding power in the very near future seem far different from what we might have expected. For the last 50 years, politics has been a lifelong career path with the same kind of decades-long trudge to the peak faced by lawyers and doctors. Now, modern voters demand more of an outside perspective. That desire is unsurprising — a common axiom in problem solving is that the person who can bring the best and most creative answer to a problem is the one who knows the least about it.

If career politicians have been unable to create the kind of change their constituents need, it is only natural to seek a radical alternative. The future of national administrations, on a global level, lies in younger, more creative, less entangled — but equally capable — leaders. As the generation who will fill those roles, we have an immense opportunity to understand real needs, foster real change and do so much earlier in our lifetimes than anticipated. For those of us on the verge of a political career, but worried about how long it might take to make it the top, that is good news. That is why the conversation needs to start now. The earlier we reflect, the earlier we understand how and why we failed — and the earlier we can change our course for the better.