Who is Emmanuel Macron? Three years ago, most French citizens would not be able to tell you. Macron’s rise has been described as terrifying by some and salvific by others. For a country wavering between isolationist populism and globalism, this election was historic. Regardless of their views on these issues, everyone watching would agree that his rise was meteoric.
At 39 years old, Emmanuel Macron has become the youngest president in the history of France. The way he rose to power is almost unfathomable to Americans used to a two-party system: when he realized that no party fit him, he created his own, called En Marche!, which could be translated to mean onward, forward, or working. This double entendre of onward or working was completely intentional, as Macron saw his party as a way for France to move forward by uniting right and left and working together. Of course unity and progress are token words of any modern leader, but we need to get at the root of what Macron actually stands for.
We begin by contrasting him with his primary opponent, Marine Le Pen. Le Pen appealed to the populist vote, relying largely upon nostalgia for a sovereign France (as opposed to the current state of affairs, in which many French see themselves as subjugated by the European Union). She catered to the French fears of unrestrained demographic and cultural change. Le Pen reached out to the sizable demographic of French who were afraid that they were losing their country to migrants, to political correctness, to liberal economics, and to the European Union, which claims more authority over France than France itself can. Le Pen’s voters were very similar to Trump’s in America, and Trump voiced his support of her, saying she was “strongest on what’s been going on in France” (Jacobs, 2017).
For the purposes of this piece, we don’t need to examine the legitimacy of these concerns, but rather what concerns Macron chose to appeal to. Macron cannot be compared cleanly to either American candidate from 2016. He aims to advance policies that are more like those of Clinton; before entering politics he made his fortune like Trump. Indeed, Macron thrives on being hard to nail down. “I am an outsider”, he affirms. He touts himself as the anti-system president, never before elected to public office, and the one who hopes to close the divide between the right and the left (Radio Canada 2017).
Though there is no shortage of news stories and interviews with Macron, his promises remain few, and that is how he wants it. In a recent interview, Macron explained why he is sparing with his promises. “[Y]ou describe 200 measures that you will implement if you are elected. Nobody delivers. Why? Because you don’t know about the actual situation” (Emmanuel Macron: Getting “tough” on Brexit 2017, 1:50). Macron chooses to remain intentionally vague about the specifics of his plans, but he has told us the general direction he wants to take France. “So what I built is first the clear and consistent vision. We are pro-innovation, pro-education in order to reduce inequality of chances. We are pro-Europe and pro-French secularism” (Emmanuel Macron: Getting “tough” on Brexit 2017, 2:07). These all seem like reasonable items.
A little further along in the interview, however, Macron said something that will likely define his time in office. He revealed that he believes we are living in revolutionary times. This is an era of sweeping reforms and unstoppable change. Why does this matter? Because Macron believes that to keep up with the times—to keep France as a world leader—he needs to push the big things first. “I don’t want to propose you small reforms or tiny reforms…We need the big stuff in order, first, to push the country to succeed in such an environment, which is radically new…” (Emmanuel Macron: Getting “tough” on Brexit 2017, 4:35).
So what can we expect to see from Macron? We know that three of his key concerns, as mentioned earlier, are education, European unity, and French secularism. I predict that we will see Macron take the reins forcefully right out of the gates. He will use his power to push large reforms quickly, rationalizing that France will lose its edge if it drags its feet.
American Christians we must be vigilant; we may be tempted to simply side with Macron’s opponents because we disapprove of his policies. But France (and the entire West) is in a precarious place politically, dangling above aggressive populist movements and increasingly coercive governments. In light of Le Pen’s unexpectedly strong performance in the elections this year, we should be braced to see France split down the middle. A sizeable percentage of the nation wanted Le Pen, but got a president whose first goal is to do “the big stuff,” most of which they will not like.
Macron will become a household name in the United States in a way that Sarkozy and Hollande never were. By all accounts, the new French president will be a leader in world politics, for better or worse. The United States and France have been allies since the time of our revolution. Now, as we see their nation take a path that is shockingly familiar to us, American Christians may find it easy to sympathize too much with one side or the other. Some of us will feel drawn to support Macron’s mission to make France more “progressive,” and to hold together the European Union. Others of us will be in support of the isolationist parties fighting against the encroaching liberalism Macron represents. But as we see the United States and France fight amongst themselves, we must never allow our desire for political policies favorable to us (or harmful to our enemies) to distract us from biblical truths. Neither Le Pen’s Front National or Macron’s En Marche! have the fate of the West in their hands–either to save or destroy it. We should not hate or love either group as though they did.
Ben Jacobs, “Donald Trump: Marine Le Pen is ‘strongest candidate’ in French election,” Guardian, April 21, 2017, accessed May 18, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/21/donald-trump-marine-le-pen-french-presidential-election.
- “Emmanuel Macron interview (English): Getting “tough” on Brexit” (video). February 14. Accessed May 18, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgjJc7RdJhg&t=291s.
Radio Canada. 2017. Qui est Emmanuel Macron et que propose-t-il?. April 28. Accessed May 18, 2017. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1030100/qui-est-emmanuel-macron-biographie-programme.