The earth is now flat, the sun has risen to the west, up is down, left is right, and Hillary has finally admitted that she lost fair and square. Only that last part was a joke. Notwithstanding, something quite extraordinary has happened in the past few days that would have seemed totally impossible a mere few months ago.
Donald Trump now has a higher domestic approval rating than Emmanuel Macron does. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 37% of Americans have a “net favorable” opinion of Mr. Trump. And the latest YouGov data show that only 36% of the French public have a “net favorable” opinion of Mr. Macron. A difference of a mere percentage point, true. Yet it marks a precipitous decline for Mr. Macron, who started off his Presidency with a powerful mandate.
It should be noted, however, that Mr. Trump’s “disapproval rating” is still higher than Mr. Macron’s, at 58% vs. 43%. This can be explained by the fact that a whopping 20% of the French public stated that they “didn’t know” how exactly they felt about Mr. Macron.
Perhaps fewer people are immensely turned off by Mr. Macron as are by Mr. Trump. Perhaps America is a nation that is fundamentally more polarized than is France. Or perhaps Mr. Macron is just the type of person whom it is quite easy to feel ambivalent about.
As I have argued before, this decline in popularity should have been entirely predictable. Mr. Macron was venerated in certain segments of French society with the zeal one would normally reserve for the Gods, Emma Watson, and Beyoncé. A harsh correction was always bound to set in after the hype collided with the constraints of reality.
It should be noted that Mr. Macron, thus far, has achieved nothing of substance. Nonetheless he has indicated that his much talked-about labor reforms will be pushed through parliament in September. We shall see.
Mr. Macron would be wise, however, to note the date of September 12th, which is when the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), France’s largest trade union, has called for a day of protest against Mr. Macron’s proposed labor reforms. In France, these types of nation-wide strikes are ascribed a gravitas that they wouldn’t be granted in other western countries. They are perceived to be formidable displays of the common man fighting against the capitalist and neoliberal puppeteers who aim to dismantle France’s social protections.
It will hence be difficult for Mr. Macron to stand up to these protests. But perhaps he will brush them aside in the same way he brushed aside Pierre de Villiers, his former army chief. During this ordeal, Mr. Macron publicly berated Mr. de Villiers by reminding the general that he is the “boss” and that he “requires no comment” on his policies.
Maybe he will comport himself in a similarly defiant manner with the CGT. But if he capitulates, it will be seen as a major disappointment for those who believed him to catalyze the hope and change that France badly needs.
Things could hence get even worse for the President. On verra.