Monday, May 08, 2017


Hi, I'm back. Thank you, Crank, Yastreblyansky, and Tom, for terrific posts while I was away. I really appreciate it.

Today we're celebrating the result of the French presidential election. In The New York Times, Adam Nossiter has a front-page story on the victor, who's depicted as a bland and generally incompetent politician who just got lucky:
... in his resounding victory on Sunday night, Emmanuel Macron, the centrist who has never held elected office, won because he was the beneficiary of a uniquely French historic and cultural legacy, where many voters wanted change but were appalled at the type of populist anger that had upturned politics in Britain and the United States.

... in the end, Mr. Macron, only 39, a former investment banker and an uninspired campaigner, won because of luck, an unexpected demonstration of political skill, and the ingrained fears and contempt that a majority of French still feel toward [Marine] Le Pen and her party, the National Front.
I realize that there's a lot of truth in this. But the story only reluctantly gives credit to Macron for his own win, and even the praise comes with contempt:
So far he has been the beneficiary of spectacular luck.

Four months ago he was polling a distant third, an all-but-certain loser whose maverick, nonparty movement was considered promising for the future but unripe. The soaring banality of his rhetoric appeared to turn off as many voters as it inspired. His rallies began in enthusiasm but soon sagged under the weight of his speechifying.

But that was before the center-right front-runner Fran├žois Fillon imploded under the weight of an embezzlement scandal, fueling Mr. Macron’s rise in the general election.... And Mr. Macron was lucky to face Ms. Le Pen, a candidate considered simply unacceptable by a majority of the French.

But he also played his limited hand with great skill from the beginning, outmaneuvering his elders.
Whereas Le Pen apparently lost, according to Nossiter, not because she represented something ugly in French politics, but because she was believed to represent something ugly, and, try as she might, she couldn't persuade voters otherwise:
... Ms. Le Pen’s challenge was different because French history is different. She has spent the last six years as president of the National Front single-mindedly focused on one objective: erasing the stain of her party’s association with the ex-collaborationists, right-wing extremists, immigrant-hating racists and anti-Semites who founded it 45 years ago.

She knew — as her father, the party patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen, always refused to acknowledge — that she would always be a minority candidate as long as she reminded the French of perhaps the greatest stain in their history, the four years of far-right rule during World War II. Inside and outside the party this process was called “undemonization” — a term suggesting the demons still associated with her party. The French do not want them back....

In the end Ms. Le Pen failed to “undemonize,” spectacularly. She failed during the course of the campaign, when her angry rallies drew the Front inexorably back into the swamp from which it had emerged.
Let me stop right there. Note that it isn't Le Pen who "drew the Front inexorably back into the swamp" -- it was "her angry rallies," as if she somehow doesn't bear responsibility for them.

Ultimately, Nossiter tells us that Le Pen sealed her fate with a bad performance in a debate with Macron, who came off as more well informed -- although even here the compliment to Macron is backhanded:
And then she failed decisively in one of the campaign’s critical moments, last week’s debate with Mr. Macron, when she effectively “redemonized” herself and the party, as many French commentators noted.

It was an hourslong tirade against Mr. Macron, laced with name-calling and epithets, and woefully deficient in substance. She appeared lost on subject after subject, fumbling on one of her signature issues — withdrawing from the euro — that is opposed by a majority of French. Something essential about Ms. Le Pen, and the National Front, had been revealed to France.

Mr. Macron, on the other hand, demonstrated a quality that French voters, unlike many Anglo-Saxon ones, have long found essential in their successful candidates: cool mastery of the critical issues confronting the country. Where Ms. Le Pen repeatedly lost herself in the weeds, Mr. Macron sailed right through them. Whether he will now be able to translate that knowledge into action is another question.
(Oh, he's just one of those Frenchies who knows what he's talking about -- for some reason the French like that sort of thing, the way they like snails and Jerry Lewis. Still, he'll probably screw up in office.)

So Emmanuel Macron is just a dull know-it-all technocrat who did the most he could with limited political skills and won mostly because of dumb luck, the weight of history, and his opponent's incompetence. What about Donald Trump? On the November 9 front page of the Times, a comparable story about Trump describes him as uncouth, but nevertheless portrays his victory as an act of pure will:
Donald John Trump defied the skeptics who said he would never run, and the political veterans who scoffed at his slapdash campaign.

He attacked the norms of American politics, singling out groups for derision on the basis of race and religion and attacking the legitimacy of the political process.

He ignored conventions of common decency, employing casual vulgarity and raining personal humiliation on his political opponents and critics in the media.

And in the ultimate act of defiance, Mr. Trump emerged victorious, summoning a tidal wave of support from less educated whites displaced by changes in the economy and deeply resistant to the country’s shifting cultural and racial tones.
See the difference there? History just happened to Le Pen and Macron -- Le Pen couldn't overcome it, and it won the election for the cool, dull Macron. By contrast, Trump summoned history -- not just history but a tidal wave of it. He may be vulgar and indecent, but his character flaws are like those of a Greek god -- and if you think I'm being hyperbolic, here's the next sentence:
The slashing, freewheeling campaign that took him to the doorstep of the White House replicated a familiar pattern from Mr. Trump’s life, but on an Olympian scale.
There's contempt in this story -- but, ultimately, Trump is a titanic force of nature:
Powered by that same grasping ambition, Mr. Trump’s candidacy was marked by countless missteps and grievous errors, from the crude and meandering speeches he delivered daily, to the allegations of sexual assault that appeared to cripple him in the final weeks of the race. No other presidential candidate in memory has given offense so freely and been so battered by scandal, and lived to fight on and win.

Amid all his innumerable blunders, however, Mr. Trump got one or two things right that mattered more than all the rest. On a visceral level, he grasped dynamics that the political leadership of both parties missed or ignored — most of all, the raw frustration of blue-collar and middle-class white voters who rallied to his candidacy with decisive force.
"Powered ... ambition ... fight on and win ... decisive force" -- that was Trump in The New York Times on November 9. By contrast, Emmanuel Macron in the Times today is just a cuck.

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