Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron Employ the Politics of Nostalgia

 

By Sebastian LaMontagne

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In 2015, one of Justin Trudeau’s unofficial campaign slogans was “Sunny Ways”, a reference to the mantra of Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier. More subtly, it could be interpreted as a reference to Louis XIV of France, the Sun King.
Unlike Emmanuel Macron, for whom Louis XIV is a political hero, Trudeau did not have to construct an intellectual and spiritual dynasty. He was born into one, as the son of Pierre Trudeau, who remains Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister at 15 years and quite possibly it’s most popular ever. Therefor it shouldn’t be surprising that Justin Trudeau harbors a belief in manifest destiny.

“Once, before a boxing match that would make or kill his career he was caught babbling Obama-like about his personal destiny. His wife, Sophie, grabbed his arm, looked him in the eyes and said, “Be humble.”‘

That’s an excerpt from a recent, and transparently lustful Rolling Stone profile. The boxing match was for a cancer fundraiser, and Trudeau’s opponent was Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau.

Everybody expected Trudeau to be pummeled into the ground like the weak-kneed jet-set brat many believed him to be. But Trudeau won. By TKO. The boxing match launched his political career and completely redefined his image.

When Guy Lawson of the New York Times asked Trudeau if he’d intended the fight to be symbolic, Trudeau responded by saying: ‘‘I saw it that way a little bit. The fight was going to be a way of highlighting and surprising people with what I am. It wasn’t about proving anything to myself — other than perhaps as a reminder that I’m very good at sticking to and executing a plan. But it was a way of pointing out to people that you shouldn’t underestimate me — which people have a tendency to do. There was a perception that I’d grown up with a silver spoon in my mouth.”

Despite this perception, Trudeau’s tragedies have often been his countries tragedies.

Trudeau’s youngest brother, Michel Trudeau, died in an avalanche while skiing in British Columbia in November of 1998. He was swept into Kokanee Lake, and was unable to reach the shore. His friends tried, but were unable, to swim out to him. Michel drowned, and despite a massive search effort his body was never uncovered. Trudeau still visits the lake, which has become Michel’s eternal resting place.

Trudeau’s mother, Margeret, who was 22 when she married then 51 year old Pierre Trudeau, suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder which induced her to reckless behavior. The Prime Minister recalls being taunted at school for his mother’s often flambouyant antics, including partying with the Rolling Stones, which had a way of becoming front page news.

When Pierre died of cancer, Trudeau spoke at his funeral and afterwards laid his forhead on his father’s coffin and publicly wept. 

During his political career he has often been accused of “emotional intelligence,” and of being less then unflappable. Frequently his critics claim him to be more Margaret’s son than his father’s.

Trudeau takes the comparisons as a compliment, intended or otherwise. And his temper, arguably his Achilles heel, he gets from his father. This temper rarely shows itself, but when it does it can be a PR disaster, such as when he shoved a female parlimantary member.

Normally Trudeau is a PR mastermind. Pierre too caused worldwide fascination. But unlike his garrulous son he was introverted, and his publicity stunts had a noticeable-ly intellectual bent to them (Nixon called him “a pompous egghead” on the watergate tapes) or deployed satirical wit, such as when he was snapped doing a pirouette behind the Queen’s back at the G7 Summit in London.

Justin Trudeau, in contrast, has capitalized on his innate likability with viral antics, a sort of good natured propaganda captured by the photographers that follow him wherever he goes.

When France’s Emmanuel Macron, the internet’s second favorite bargain bin Obama, won against Marine Le Pen I was too busy celebrating the fact that a Putin supported extremist had been defeated to wonder overmuch what a Macron Presidency might actually look like.

But the honeymoon was soon over, and American observers were forced to begin reckoning with the same comments that French voters had been thinking about for months. Comments such as this one, made to the French weekly Le 1: “In the process and function of democracy there is something missing, the figure of the king, whose death, I believe, fundamentally, the people did not want.”

Macron believes that the absence of a king has “created an emotional void.” A void that Hollande and Sarkozy did little to fill, with their constant attempts to appear as relatable. Holland in particular wished to be appear as an everyman.

Termed a “liberal strongman” by Politico, Emmanuel Macron has wasted no time in consolidating power, doing it with the gusto and the careful presentation of a performance artist or propagandist, and with a history professor’s knowledge of France’s political past.

On 6/18/17 he accrued a majority in the National Assembly for La République En Marche, his upstart political party. (350 seats out of 577)

The Les Républicains party created an alliance with smaller factions and together earned 137 seats, enough to mount a roadblock to some portions of Macron’s agenda.

He even managed to, with a minimum of fuss, rid himself of François Bayrou as Justice Minister. Bayrou’s endorsement of Macron during the campaign was key, but he had begun to portray himself as kingmaker in the media and was attempting to turn himself into a power center within Macron’s cabinet. He resigned on June 21st following the launch of a probe by prosecutors into Bayrou’s MoDem party and it’s alleged misuse of campaign funds.

Bayrou was always a controversial figure to members of the En Marche party, many of whom had been campaigning for him to go. Then Macron dealt French Socialist Manuel Valls, under whom he had once served, a cruel blow. Shortly after Macron’s victory but before he assumed office Valls declared in an interview: “I will be a candidate in the presidential majority and I wish to join up to [Macron’s] movement. The Socialist Party is dead.”

That didn’t go over well with the socialists, who declared on 5/16/17 that Valls would not be on the party ticket in the parliamentary election. Valls was then rejected from En Marche, who claimed he did not “fit their criteria.”

And just like that, a slippery political opportunist who would have been a threat to Macron either inside or outside of En Marche, was transformed into an Independent and stripped of allies.

Meanwhile Macron, once friendly with the press, had disappeared within Élysée Palace and denied every interview that came his way, refusing even to do press conferences. He was busy transforming himself into the Jupiterian leader he had promised France, the distant but competent king he believes they long for.

In stark opposition to Donald Trump’s open door oval office, Macron cut off most of his campaign aides, shut down his mobile phone, and restricted access to his person to a few young aides with whom he shares nothing but information pertaining to each day’s agenda.

He declared that when traveling the country he will only answer questions from reporters if they pertain to the topic of the trip. “When I travel on a topic of my choosing, I speak of the topic of my choosing, I won’t answer newsy questions.”

Macron set about flooding media outlets with cryptic statements, often made through the use of a visual aid such as his Presidential portrait.

In it he is posed between the French flag and the European Union flag. Behind him on the desk lies a brass clock and a bronze rooster, as well as the memoir of Charles de Gaulle (a video taken moments prior to the official photo shows the President carefully arranging the book to make it appear as if he had simply been reading it at his desk), André Gide’s “Fruits of the Earth” and Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black.”

His victory speech was conducted in-front of  François Mitterrand’s glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris. He was recently photographed  at Air Base 125 in Istres, southern France, where he wore a flight suit reminiscent of both Top Gun and the outfit George W. Bush wore when making his “mission accomplished” speech about the Iraq war. Most recently he met with Rihanna for a much documented conversation about global education.

Perhaps the most notorious result of his endless public relations campaign is a photo released on July 4 by Macron’s team, which shows him being lowered into the nuclear submarine “Le Terrible,” in an image reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s super heroic propaganda.

 

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“The man is pure, cold resolve. If he has decided that he is Jupiter, he will govern from above through surrogates like the PM and cabinet ministers — delegating and firing if he’s not happy with results” declared a former adviser from Macron’s days at the economy ministry, as if reading from a script prepared by the President himself.

The perfect branding hit a bump when Macron staged a surprise “state of the union address” before both houses of Parliament in the Palace of Versailles. The speech accomplished what it was likely supposed to (upstaging Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s speech the following day) but came across as a phoned in re-iteration of Macron’s stump speeches. Some members of the audience seemed on the verge of falling asleep.

This relatively small misstep was hailed by the French press as blood in the water, a sign that Jupiter was not so godlike after all. They didn’t have to wait long for something more substantial to come along.

Charles de Gaulle, one of Macron’s primary role models, created France’s fifth republic and funneled, by 1960, 5.4 percent of France’s gross domestic product into military spending. He made France strong again, in the eyes of the world, and his concentration on military spending allowed for France’s ultimate addition of a nuclear submarine fleet, something which is now key to France’s identity.

But de Gaulle came into power with a stable economy, a luxury not afforded to Macron.

General de Villiers, reinstated to his post upon Macron’s victory, has not been pleased with the new President’s military spending plan.

“I have a fine army. But it is doing 130 percent of what it was meant to do”

Beneath the surface of all Macron’s symbolism, he hasn’t added to the military’s budget. He has in fact cut it. Ahead of Bastille Day the Macron government announced an 850 million euro cut to the 32 billion euro defense budget promised for this year.

In a closed door meeting an incensed General de Villiers pronounced, in such terms, that he was not one to be fucked with. Soon afterwards Macron gathered an audience of military leaders including the general, and reminded them that he was their commander, that they would obey him, and not voice their personal opinions in the press. Macron would deliver the promised defense budget in 2018.

General de Villiers resigned shortly afterwards, saying he believed himself incapable of fully protecting the French people with the limited resources provided him. The resulting nervousness in the military community, and the more anxious quarters of the civilian one, forced Macron to promise a 1.8 billion euro increase to the defense budget in 2018.

Macron’s approval rating has dropped to 54 percentage points, a full ten point drop between May and July.

His approval rating dropped 18 percentage points among civil servants, 11 points among over-65s, and a whopping 25 points among supporters of the MoDem party, constituting, perhaps, a backlash over Bayrou’s resignation.

The French President, so eager to be king, would be wise to remember that as quickly as France rushes to adore a monarch, it rushes to behead them in times of protracted instability.

 

 

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