Monday, June 5, 2017

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.    


Amazing how quickly full-length documentaries can get get shared and aired.

Within less than a week after the second round of the French presidential elections,  Netflix was already showing a 90-minute documentary, directed by Yann L’Heroret, called in English Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise (original French title: Emmanuel Macron: Les coulisses d’une victoire) – in French with English subtitles. It was a documentary in the tradition of the 1993 American documentary, The War Room, about the election of Bill Clinton. Like The War Room, it was a view of a presidential campaign as seen entirely from within the camp and strategy rooms of the winning candidate. There were brief and fleeting shots of rival candidates (Le Pen, Fillon), only when they appeared in television debates with Macron. There were very brief shots indeed of Macron facing off against protesters who didn’t like him, such as a group of aged pieds noirs from Algeria who didn’t like what he’d said about the evils of colonialism. Otherwise, the aim of the film was to show the enthusiasm of Macron’s (often young) followers; Macron’s cleverness in out-debating his rivals; the silly side-issue of a sex scandal which a journalist fabricated, but which Macron was easily able to refute; and finally the triumph of the winning tally. It was notable that much context was missing – no reference to the big riots staged by left-wingers in Paris when their preferred candidate got trounced in the first round. Hardly any reference to the Le Pen phenomenon and, of course, in the debate sections it was only Macron’s zingers that were displayed, not those of the other candidates.

One can only imagine that much of the film had already been edited and put in place before the final results. It would have required only an extra ten minutes or so of selected footage to be added, after the election, before the film was ready for its very topical release.

Though essentially an exercise in cheer-leading, some of it was enlightening. As in all political campaigns, there was horse-trading. Other candidates gave in to Macron after the first round of voting, and agreed to encourage their supporters to vote for Macron in the second round. There was the interesting issue of the size of the halls in which Macron’s rallies were to be held – make them too big, and the television cameras will pick up all the empty seats.

Macron, former finance minister in Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party, formed his “En Marche!” party only last year.

And here we come to the most obvious thing that Emmanuel Macron: Behind the Rise did not consider. There was virtually nothing about Macron’s policies, except that he is a “European” (i.e. a strong supporter of the EU) and that he is open-minded on the subject of immigration. Much can apparently be forgiven him in that he is young and handsome (at 39, France’s youngest preseident to date) and – to the purring delight of those who consider surfaces only – that he has declared that his preferred cabinet would have 50% men and 50% women.

BUT there are two major unconsidered issues.

First, Macron will get his dream team only if France’s (yet-to-come) parliamentary elections go his way. At time of writing, the newly-invented “En Marche!” party has no representation in the French parliament whatsoever. In the end, the most likely outcome is that President Macron will have to work with a parliament that is predominantly Socialist and Republican (formerly known a Gaullist).

Second, some people appear not to have read the fine print. Macron may believe in Europe, immigration and gender equity, but he is also clearly a neo-liberal. One of his policies is to reduce the tax rate on corporations, in order to (he says) stimulate jobs and productivity. My political rear-vision-mirror sees an image very like Tony Blair – young, telegenic, personable, and in fact part of the process that further wound down the welfare state. It is not as if Macron – the former banker – has begun this process in France, but he is certainly going to continue it.

Considering the nature of Macron’s electoral victory, there is another important point. Essentially, for the French electorate, he was a negative candidate. The Socialists, Republicans and minority party-supporters who voted for him were largely voting against Marine Le Pen, the other candidate left standing after the first round of presidential elections. The French had a choice between an extreme nationalist and a smooth neoliberal. They chose the neoliberal, which in the circumstances was fair enough.

I know I’ve quoted it before on this blog, but I am once again reminded of that line in C.Day Lewis’s 1943 poem “Where Are the War Poets?”:

It is the logic of our times,

No subject for immortal verse –

That we who lived by honest dreams

Defend the bad against the worse.”

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