Trump, Macron both re­flect shift­ing po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics

Albuquerque Journal - - OPINION - Columnist

WASH­ING­TON — If he had run in any other year, he prob­a­bly never would have be­come pres­i­dent. Lim­ited po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, no real con­nec­tion to a main­stream party and a ré­sumé that screams “out-of-touch rich guy.” The ma­jor­ity of the elec­torate had some­one else as first choice. But thanks to a se­ries of his­tor­i­cal ac­ci­dents — no­tably a late-break­ing scan­dal that fa­tally dam­aged his op­po­nent’s chances — he holds the high­est of­fice in the land.

Given this un­likely path to of­fice, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing his ap­proval rat­ings are dis­mally low. Or that he faces a swelling protest move­ment that oc­ca­sion­ally turns violent. The coun­try was vot­ing against his op­po­nent more than vot­ing for him, and now that he’s ex­er­cis­ing the pow­ers they re­luc­tantly handed him, they’re none too pleased.

I speak, of course, of Em­manuel Macron, the pres­i­dent of France. But you can be ex­cused if you thought I was re­fer­ring to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. That the two can ap­pear so po­lit­i­cally sim­i­lar de­spite such wildly dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal com­mit­ments sug­gests a West­ern polity that’s grop­ing for a work­able the­ory of gov­ern­ment — and fail­ing.

To be sure, you have to squint a bit to see the fun­da­men­tal sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the two pres­i­dents. It’s fair to say the ed­u­cated cen­ter-left pro­fes­sional class that pro­vides Macron’s most en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port is, in the United States, among Trump’s bit­ter­est op­po­nents. And Macron, whose back­ground in­cludes turns as a high-level bureau­crat and an in­vest­ment banker, is the type Trump vot­ers re­belled against.

Trump and Macron, in other words, are nearly pure em­bod­i­ments of the op­pos­ing cur­rents that are re­shap­ing pol­i­tics through­out West­ern democ­ra­cies: the rise of a con­sol­i­dated cos­mopoli­tan class that of­ten has more in com­mon with coun­ter­parts in other nations than with less-ed­u­cated coun­try­men, and the pop­ulist back­lash the rise en­gen­ders.

Both en­joy power not be­cause vot­ers ac­tu­ally en­dorsed their purist vi­sions but be­cause of scan­dal and the some­what ar­cane struc­ture of the elec­tions they won: Trump sealed an elec­toral col­lege vic­tory with­out win­ning the pop­u­lar vote be­cause of 11th-hour ques­tions about Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pri­vate email server; Macron walked to an easy runoff vic­tory largely be­cause a cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tion in the first round of vot­ing dented the cen­ter-right can­di­date enough to let na­tion­al­ist Ma­rine Le Pen slip by.

But some sup­port­ers nonethe­less saw in these vic­to­ries the sign the time of the tech­nocrats or the pop­ulists had fi­nally ar­rived. And de­trac­tors will be equally tempted to see in the cur­rent strug­gles a sign that the fi­nal vic­tory will be theirs. Those op­po­nents should pause to look across the At­lantic.

French pop­ulists, for ex­am­ple, may be heart­ened by the wide­spread and ve­he­ment protests that erupted over fuel price in­creases caused by Macron’s new car­bon tax, forc­ing him into an em­bar­rass­ing re­con­sid­er­a­tion. But these pop­ulists should study Trump care­fully to see ... the dis­tance be­tween ral­ly­ing crowds and suc­cess­ful govern­ing.

Trump is strong­est when ar­tic­u­lat­ing emo­tive goals, such as his prom­ises to “Make Amer­ica Great Again” by stop­ping for­eign­ers from steal­ing all the good jobs. But his pop­ulist dis­dain for pointy­headed elites, which in­cludes the ad­min­is­tra­tive class needed to im­ple­ment his pro­pos­als, has left him largely un­able to put pol­icy flesh on the rhetor­i­cal bones. And his fiery rhetoric has also in­flamed his op­po­si­tion, who promptly voted to give control of the House of Representatives to the other party.

How­ever, those tempted to imag­ine that the cure for Trump­ism is a blood­less “good gov­ern­ment” plat­form, driven by the ef­fi­ciency ethos and pri­or­i­ties of the pro­fes­sional classes, should be hum­bled by Macron’s strug­gles. Tech­noc­racy has no con­stituency out­side those classes on ei­ther side of the At­lantic. Un­less tech­noc­racy can ally it­self with less ab­stract kinds of pol­i­tics it founders in a ris­ing tide of voter hos­til­ity. In West­ern democ­ra­cies the old com­pe­ti­tion be­tween left and right has been re­align­ing into a bat­tle be­tween cos­mopoli­tans and na­tivists, de­clin­ing eth­nic ma­jori­ties and grow­ing im­mi­grant classes, ed­u­cated elites and the salt of the earth. Both sides have ex­pe­ri­enced em­bit­ter­ing de­feats (and) heady ela­tion at the pos­si­bil­ity of to­tal vic­tory. Trump and Macron of­fer each side a glimpse of what that to­tal vic­tory might look like — and a re­buke to those who seek it.


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