Macron’s Greatest Enemy? Himself.
Instead of leading France forward, Macron continues to hold the republic back.
As his poll numbers continue to plummet, President Emmanuel Macron of France has done little to aid his own reputation. In July, French media outlets revealed that Macron’s personal bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla, illegally posed as a French police officer on May Day and beat protestors. In response, Macron’s initial reaction was to refuse to go public with the affair and merely issued Benalla a two-week suspension. French citizens exploded with outrage upon learning this – outrage at Benalla’s meager punishment, as well as Macron’s effort to cover up the affair altogether.
Last August, Macron refused to attend the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Amiens, where over 100,000 Europeans lost their lives. Although various high-level officials from Europe – including British Prime Minister Theresa May – chose to attend the ceremony, Macron instead opted to remain on holiday.
Both incidents – only a few weeks apart – have caused an uproar not only among Macron’s opponents but also his supporters.
He has even been caught demanding that French citizens refer to him as “Mr. President.” After a French teenager jokingly called Macron by his first name, Manu, the President quickly reminded the teen who was in fact president. “You call me ‘Mr. President’ or ‘Sir’. OK?…The day you want to start a revolution you study first in order to obtain a degree and feed yourself, OK? And then you can lecture others.”
The teen never lectured Macron. Instead, he bore only a look of disappointment as Mr. President cruised alongside his crowd of supporters and continued shaking hands.
Since acceding to the French presidency, onlookers have viewed Macron as embracing a haughty, overbearing nature, causing some in France to liken him to authoritarian figures including Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. And his actions – covering up scandals, ignoring highly respected events, and talking down to citizens – have had consequences. Polls reveal that 32 percent of French citizens that voted for Macron in the first round of France’s presidential election currently disapprove of his presidency. Only 35 percent approve of the vision he holds for France. 78 percent believe him ignorant of the “concerns of French people.” Although Macron has apologized for his involvement in the Benalla Affair, these weak poll numbers indicate that French citizens care more about Macron’s actions than his words.
On the economy, Macron’s fiscal and monetary policies have stoked wide opposition as well. He believes this a short-term effect, with long-term economic growth eventually converting those oppositionists into supporters. But there is no guarantee for such an outcome.
This intransigent attitude is especially disappointing when considering the circumstances through which Macron rose to power. As populist trends including Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump shook the Western liberal order, Macron’s run for the French presidency in 2017 made him one of the few remaining warriors combatting the populist tide in the eyes of many. Macron’s platform called for, among other things, reforming the European Union (EU) and reaffirming France’s position within the EU. While populist parties thrived across Europe by shamelessly attacking the EU’s decision to accept Muslim migrants, Macron refused to criticize the institution. He instead promoted an inclusive, upbeat message, arguing that only by embracing globalization and internationalism could France overcome the problems plaguing it. As opposed to offering a message of fear, he offered one of hope – hope sorely needed after the beating liberalism had endured.
When he routed Marine Le Pen in the final round of voting, it appeared as though Macron’s message of hope had led him to victory. Together, as one, would the French citizenry and Macron fight to strengthen their country.
Macron has no one to blame for his fall in popularity but himself. His party, La Republique En Marche!, controls over 60 percent of the National Assembly, giving him de facto legislative authority in France. The Socialists and Republicans, meanwhile, have seen their former political significance evaporate, and Marine Le Pen’s National Front lacks any presence in the legislature.
With no political forces currently standing in his way, Macron’s greatest enemy is himself.
Although he retains political supremacy for now, each boorish action Macron performs threatens that political supremacy; this image problem is not short-term. Populists like Marine Le Pen built their campaign on the idea of toppling elites and returning power to the citizenry. When Macron purposefully hides information from the public and believes himself their superior, he reinforces the perception that he himself is the very elite Le Pen ran against last year.
As figures like Victor Orban of Hungary and Matteo Salvini of Italy remind onlookers how powerful a force populism remains, Macron has made clear his desire to continue fighting for liberalism. And with nearly four years remaining on his presidential term, he may continue this much-needed fight.
Unless Macron stops seeking to emulate Louis XIV and Napoleon, he may give birth to the very beast he aimed to destroy just one year ago.