French Followers Eat their Young

Not much over a year ago he was France’s Boy Wonder. Young and good looking; well-educated and highly accomplished; remarkably bold and equally bright; Emmanuel Macron was strikingly successful in business and, subsequently, in politics. He came out of nearly nowhere to sweep into the Elysee Palace, France’s preternaturally splendid equivalent of the White House, at the tender age of 39.

Since then it’s been straight downhill. On the international stage Macron still manages to cut a bit of a dashing figure. But at home things are different. The French have given him nearly no time to prove himself, deciding instead early in his presidential term that they don’t like him. In December 2017 some 50 % of French people still supported Macron. Some nine months later, this figure had dropped to 19 %. Moreover, fully 60% of those polled found his achievements “negative,” almost double the figure of a half year ago. In other words, fewer than one in five French followers now approve of the leader they relatively recently voted into the nation’s highest office.

There is no single reason for Macron’s dramatic decline in popularity. Yes, his tenure has been tarnished by some scandals, but none have been serious. Yes, he pushed through, perhaps precipitously, some pro-market reforms that made him seem somewhat oblivious to the needs of France’s working class. And yes, he has a manner that many see as off-putting, arrogant, maybe even authoritarian. But these supposed sins are minor, not major. He has worked hard to kick France into higher gear – the country has languished in recent years, especially in comparison with its generally far more prosperous and powerful neighbor, Germany – and it’s far too early to tell if his efforts will pay off.

No, the problem Macron has is more fundamental. His problem is his followers, the people, the French people. Like other peoples across Europe, and for that matter in the United States, today’s voters are exceedingly easily bored and exceedingly easily angered. They, we, have little tolerance and nearly no patience. Not a good recipe for a liberal democracy which requires a modicum of both.


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