Today marks the fifty-ninth day of Emmanuel Macron’s Presidency. One might believe that fifty-nine is a number without any particular significance in regard to Monsieur le Président. But one could be forgiven for believing that it is probably close to the number of times Mr. Macron winks, snaps, and points at himself in front of the mirror each day.
For Mr. Macron is flying high at the moment- or at least ostensibly so. Nonetheless, he is enjoying every moment of it. In fact, according to himself, he is so high up that he is practically circulating amongst the Gods themselves. And, not to be bested by the B-list divinities, Mr. Macron likens his style to the king of the Roman Gods himself: Jupiter.
But more on that later. Mr. Macron handily won the French Presidency as a political novice despite being up against several household political names. The press adores him. The French have confidence in him. Following June’s legislative elections, he has won a decisive majority for his newly-formed party, La République En Marche.
He has charmed world leaders all over. Angela Merkel, not particularly famous for her exuberance, can nonetheless barely contain her bubbly admiration for him. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, exudes an extra-rosy flush in his presence, in contrast to the mere semi-rosy flush that he is able to muster during the average luncheon.
Mr. Macron has also convinced many that he has what it takes to be tough when necessary. He managed to look derrière-clenchingly intense whilst discussing the Manchester terror attack with Teresa May over the telephone. He continued to successfully portray this image of a fierce, albeit fiber-deprived man during his much-retweeted “Handshakegate” “win” over Donald Trump. He even later remarked that his handshake “was not innocent.”
He has cunningly employed the use of social media, capitalizing on every opportunity to pose in poignant photos with autistic children, disabled tennis players, and that yoga-planking hunk, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trop mimi!
And, lastly, there’s that perfectly Gallic gap-toothed smile that screams “a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e.” What human monster wouldn’t melt into a gushy love puddle for that? Ahh, we are living in fabulous times indeed.
Hence if one were to draw conclusions solely from these effervescent moments, one would most likely be under the impression that all is well at the Elysée. But alas, below the surface, far more dodgy things are afoot.
Four of Mr. Macron’s cabinet ministers have already had to resign. To put this in perspective, even Donald Trump, hardly the paragon of competence, has managed to keep his original cabinet together.
First to resign from the Macron cabinet was Richard Ferrand, Regional Cohesion Minister, who was being investigated for nepotism. Shortly after were the three members of the MoDem party, headed by the perpetually-cherished good guy of French politics, Francois Bayrou. But alas, the MoDem party is currently embroiled in a scandal over misuse of EU funds to pay party employees. La honte!
For a President who vowed to bring confidence back into politics, this made for a turbulent start- not that the French media has bothered to dwell on it. No matter. His supporters will nevertheless deem the resignations to indeed be a positive thing: proof that Mr. Macron will take decisive action to remove all bad elements from his retinue. But then again, his supporters tend to see most things Manu does in a positive light.
On the issue of his ambitious economic reforms, upon which he gained much of his popularity, there have been reversals, mixed messages, and confusion. It was widely reported that business leaders, once thoroughly overjoyed at the prospect of a Macron Presidency, were slightly irritated upon learning that his much-promised tax cuts would be put on hold until further notice.
At a recent meeting of CAC 40 CEOs in the quaint town of Aix-en-Provence, it was reported that there was frustration about Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s announcement a few days earlier that certain tax cuts would have to be put on hold.
This follows a statement by the official state audit body that the 2017 government budget had an €8 billion hole in it. Hence, tax cuts would have to be delayed in order to remain under the 3% EU deficit limits. Adding to the confusion was Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire’s insistence a few days later that the tax cuts would go ahead regardless.
This caused Mr. Macron’s detractors to sneer. It further added to the suspicion that Mr. Macron, who promised to swiftly and decisively reform France, is a man who will “talk the talk,” but who will not, “walk the walk.” Or maybe he will just “stumble the stumble” for now. Who knows.
Adding to his list of recent fumbles, Mr. Macron recently proclaimed at the recent G20 summit that international terrorism was linked to climate change. The implication was clear: fix the climate and the jihad will work itself out.
This is quite an odd claim. Most of us were quite unaware that the temperatures in London, Manchester, Brussels, Stockholm, and Saint Petersburg had suddenly risen this year. But Mr. Macron clearly feels differently:
“We can not pretend to fight terrorism effectively if we do not have a resolute action against global warming, or we must go and explain to the people who live in Chad, Niger and elsewhere that the climate is not a problem.”
“Today, terrorism, the great imbalances in our world, what we are experiencing, is linked to the climatic imbalances that our international productive mode has generated. We have to answer them because everything is linked,” he added.
Another irritating phenomenon has been the creeping pomposity and sense of entitlement that has begun to manifest itself in the young man. As was mentioned earlier, Mr. Macron once described his future Presidential style as being “Jupiterian.” Jupiter, king of the Roman Gods and ruler of the sky, thunder, and lightning, is certainly a formidable personality to embody. Macron wants this particular pagan God to be his role model because, apparently, he wants to appear “distant” and “mysterious” to the average Frenchman.
Adding to this distance and mysteriousness was Mr. Macron’s decision to eschew the traditional Presidential television address to the nation on the 14th of July (France’s National Day). When asked about why he would not partake in this tradition, an Elysée official stated that Mr. Macron’s, "complex thought process lends itself badly to the game of question-and-answer with journalists.”
The same “complex” thought process that blames al-Qaeda on warm temperatures, one supposes.
Nonetheless, despite deeming the July 14th address to be superfluous, Mr. Macron saw it fit to address the two houses of the French parliament in the grandiose halls of the Versailles palace, an unorthodox spectacle that French Presidents do not often engage in. In fact, it was last conducted in 2015 following the horrific November 13th attacks in Paris. Perhaps Mr. Macron finds the prospect of announcing tax cuts just as momentous.
Then, there was the other handshake moment, a most puerile and petty stunt whereby Mr. Macron publicly and deliberately snubbed Donald Trump at May’s G7 summit. Mr. Macron appears to be heading towards Mr. Trump for a handshake, only at the last moment to veer off towards Angela Merkel, leaving The Donald to bite the dust. “The brilliant symbolism, eschewing Trump for Merkel!” his fans will declare. An eyeroll is what the rest of France could muster.
Lastly, there has been the unorthodox public spat that has emerged in recent days between the President and his most senior military general over €850 million in proposed cuts to France’s defense budget. Gen. Pierre de Villiers, a much-respected individual in France, was said to have been indignant in response to these proposals to cut France’s €32.7 billion defense budget. €32.7 billion is already under the 2% of GDP that NATO asks its members to spend, at a minimum, on their militaries. Moreover, Gen. de Villiers’s public outcry was highly unusual for France, as its military has traditionally been the most staid and dignified body of the state.
What was most telling about this incident, however, was not the bizarre way in which it became a national mini-drama. Rather, it lay in Mr. Macron’s response to Gen. de Villiers’s irritation. “For me, it is undignified to wash one’s dirty linen in public,” he said, only to add that, “I am your leader. I need no pressure, no comment.”
To add further to the comedy, when it was rumored that Gen. de Villiers was considering resigning from his position in response to this very public dispute, Mr. Macron instantly vowed to increase defense spending in 2018 by €1.5 billion. Confusion reigns.
Mr. Macron is still very early into his Presidency. But he is beginning to show worrying signs that perhaps his critics were not entirely wrong in saying that he is naïve, narcissistic, and somewhat of a showman. It took many centuries and the onset of Christianity for the myth of Jupiter to finally fade away. Let us see whether the myth of Macron can survive at least these next five years.