There was a strong sense of hope among the massive crowd outside the Louvre, where Emmanuel Macron spoke Sunday night after his landslide victory over right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election.
The 39-year-old centrist’s amalgam of positions holds the potential for radically reshaping the angry, polarized, stalled politics of troubled democracies like the U.S., Britain and France.
In addition, he represents a full-throated repudiation of the anti-immigrant, xenophobic, anti-globalization “populism” that has made its way across the globe.
Macron wants to strengthen the European Union (EU) and free trade, and, implicitly, restore France as a counterweight to Germany. He calls for an inclusive society that embraces France’s huge Muslim population and welcomes immigrants and refugees.
He wants to maintain France’s vaunted health care and safety-net programs and make benefits more egalitarian, while cutting taxes, public spending and labor laws that have contributed to high unemployment, slow growth, and a less-than-business-friendly climate.
He wants to extend unemployment protections to gig economy workers, reduce classroom sizes, more vigorously fight climate change, ensure that women are paid equally, and increase defense spending.
He’s also been surprisingly unique among Western leaders in denouncing Russia’s thuggish leadership. Unlike either the decline-and-disaster jeremiads of Trump, Le Pen, or Britain’s Nigel Farage, or the morosité — gloom— of many French people, he is an optimist, “the only guy talking about positive things,” as a 26-year-old voter from Dijon told me.
He has also broken up an ossified two-party system dominated by older white men.
France remains divided. Le Pen’s frothing National Front had its best electoral showing ever and one-fifth of French voters cast their ballots for a former communist in the first round of elections in April. National Assembly elections in June could usher in Washington-like legislative paralysis. War, terrorism, or an economic crisis could turn the Macron revolution to dust.
Yet to be in France now feels somewhat akin to what Wordsworth wrote of a revolution in 1789: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” at a time “when reason seemed the most to assert her rights.”
Andrew L. Yarrow, a senior fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute who is completing his fifth book, has long studied and worked in and around U.S. and European politics.