In praise of Emmanuel Macron

In praise of Emmanuel Macron

I sat down to parse this week’s flurry of Trumpian lunacies — aptly described by Dan Drezner as the “beclowning of America” — referring to himself as the King of Israel, wanting to buy Greenland, accusing Jews of dual loyalty, and so on. The prospect felt exhausting. Then I recalled the cliché that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness, which seems like a nice idea about once a month. So here goes.

The trigger is Macron’s decision to abandon any effort to draft a communique for the G7 summit he’s hosting in Biarritz this weekend. Such confabulations are invariably consumed by arguments over an adjective here, a subclause there, which preoccupies the best civil service minds in the seven richest democracies in the world. Leaving the United Nations aside (and various MBA faculties), rarely is so much brainpower squandered on such insignificant outcomes.

“No one reads communiqués, let’s be honest,” said Macron. “And in recent times you only read communiqués to detect disagreements.” Then, of course, there was the prospect of achieving no statement at all given Trump’s allergy to all things to do with alliances, democracies, co-operation and so forth. Why waste time on something that will probably not happen? So Macron junked the ritual. I give him an B for efficient pragmatism. 

But I give France’s president an A plus for wanting to discuss issues that matter. Top of his list is the crisis of democracy and the crisis of capitalism. To anyone who is not running a large country, these issues are self-evidently the existential challenges we collectively face (in addition to global warming). But there is scant chance any other G7 leader would have put them on the agenda. Angela Merkel is fading gracefully into retirement. Italy is without a leader (thank goodness). Justin Trudeau is facing a general election. Scott Morrison only wants to talk about China, although he oddly just sent an Australian naval flotilla to join the Americans in the Gulf. Boris Johnson just wants to complain about the Irish. And Trump’s chief aim is to make a mockery of the gathering.

That leaves Macron as the only homme sérieux. That has been the case for quite a while. Because he is French, and the French are prone to over-intellectualising, it is tempting to discount Macron’s contributions. He is young, has likened himself to Jupiter, and doubtless fancies a portrait of himself rearing up on a white charger against a burning horizon. But we can forgive him that because he has ideas — and because there are precious few other global leaders who show much affinity for thinking.

Swamp Notes is not the place to give a sophisticated verdict on Macron’s two and a half years in office. He has got some things wrong, such as his initial myopia about the force behind the yellow vest protests, and some things right, such as his lonely campaign to put the eurozone on a more rational economic footing. But it is a good moment to remind Swampians that the cupboard is not completely bare. Alone among world leaders, Macron is trying to spark a serious conversation on life and death issues that affect us all. Simply for trying, I give him huge credit. If he chalked up a success or two that would obviously be a bonus.

I will not pose my customary question to Rana, since she is sipping cocktails in Hawaii. Nor will I be writing Swamp Notes next week, as I will be drinking ouzo in Crete. After that we’ll both be back in business. 

Recommended reading

• My column this week slips back into the half-light I’m afraid — the next step on Trump’s end-of-diplomacy tour. I predict that the chances are slim of Trump making it through a French weekend without accelerating the demise of the west — by offering to buy a chunk of Europe, for example.

• Thomas Wright in the Atlantic goes boldly into the night by arguing that Trump is now in league with the autocrats: “At this particular moment, it is not sufficient to say that the free world is without a leader,” Tom writes. “He has actually defected to the other side.”

• To wit, Susan Glasser’s profile of Mike Pompeo in the New York is also well worth reading. Her profile also contains the immortal quote from an unnamed White House staffer that Pompeo is like a “heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass”. That, and the revelation that Pompeo and John Bolton are not on speaking terms, makes Glasser’s profile a revealing read. Alas, it’s also pretty dark. Time for me to pick up a couple of those summer novels Swampians so kindly recommended.

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