The new President of France, Emmanuel Macron, wants French people to "embrace the future". Time will tell if he can make that possible, but his is a better message than the Trumps of this world who want to embrace the past
Emmanuel Macron may turn out to be a success. Then again, he may not. But for now, it is enough to compare his inaugural speech with that of Donald J. Trump's.
Trump, it will be recalled, painted a picture of "American carnage", a divided and violent nation that would "from now on" put itself first in every interaction with the world. To accomplish this goal, Trump indicated America would follow a path of economic nationalism and militarisation in defiance of a globalising and interconnected world. As if to reinforce this "America First" stance, Trump comes across as belligerent, arrogant, self-absorbed and a bully.
I hasten to say that by far the majority of Americans do not agree with Trump and do not fit this description. They did not vote for him. He won the election but not the popular vote. Half of those eligible to vote did not bother. But, for now, Trump is the face of America.
Meanwhile, in France, Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, won 66.5% of the vote as he defeated the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Le Pen revealed herself to be a completely odious character in the final televised debate and French voters from across the political spectrum came together to ensure her defeat.
This is not all good news for Macron because it means he has a lot of support from people who were against Le Pen as opposed to being for him. Le Pen won 11 million votes, leaving her with a strong platform to build on should he falter. Nevertheless, on this occasion, the French thought a banker in a Rolls Royce was preferrable to a fascist in a tank.
In his first address to the nation, Macron made it clear that he intended to unite France. He painted a picture of France as on the edge of a renaissance and urged people to "embrace the future". He asserted the importance of Europe and the global community while offering France as a champion of liberty. He talked of the urgency with which France will need to confront the issues of the times we live in (like the crisis of capitalism and climate change) and that he intended to act swiftly on his campaign promises. He was described, using the words of Chateaubriand, as "...a person of his times" and therefore best to lead France.
This was a message of hope that cuts with the grain of history. As a former investment banker, Macron is the essence of everything that the "left behind" who supported Le Pen are protesting against, so he was at pains to let them know he got their message. He knows business as usual is not an option.
I wonder if Trump and his team watched Macron speak with a lump in their throats. For all his appalling behaviour during the American election campaign, Trump could have begun his Presidency as Macron did with a message of hope to all Americans and the world. He won the election because he stood for change and because Hillary Clinton embodied what too many people thought was an elite that had lost touch with ordinary people. He had the opportunity to do something special. Instead he took his nation down a rabbit hole into an unreal and dangerous world where everyone is the enemy and everything is about winning while others lose. This is not an American view of the world, it is Trump's and he is imposing it on an increasingly bewildered constituency.
Macron, on the other hand, made it clear that France wins if all nations win and it is his intention to stand for values that appeal to the best, not the worst, in us.
In contrast, and echoing Trump, American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has told the world that American values are not to be mixed with American policy. American policy is all about what is good for America. Values will only be talked about when it is expedient to do so.
Sentor John McCain, a war hero that Vietnam-dodging-Trump has disparaged, has criticised this line of thinking, noting it is a license for anyone opposed to democracy, freedom and human rights to do whatever they want knowing that America will look the other way. Trump actively reinorces this view by endorsing one dictator after another and lashing out at the democratic constraints under which he must operate.
As I write these words, President Macron will be in Germany visting Chancellor Angela Merkel (someone Trump has made it his business to criticise), to discuss the future of the European Union. Macron and Merkel now find themselves to be the real leaders of the community of democratic nations. We can only hope that between them they can ensure the success of their nations while reforming the European Union and thereby guarantee its future.
In these troubled times the world needs Europe to show that it is possible for progressive ideals to flourish. Bold thinking is required. The old world is not working. We face challenges in every sphere that cannot be answered by tinkering or appealing to the so-called radicalism of a Trump or indeed a Corbyn in Britain. These people are not about the future, they are trying to hide from it.
Macron may turn out to have feet of clay. Like most people, I have little knowledge of him, how he operates or whether he really means what he says. How can it be any other way when he has no history at all in elected politics? We shall see - and for now he has shown that it is possible to not only defeat a populist like Le Pen but do so "bigly" as Trump would say. That is a good enough start.