By Chloé Meley
French President Emmanuel Macron- currently under fire for his social and economic reforms and struggling to appease a country paralysed by strikes led by students and railway workers- flew to Washington D.C. on April 23rd to meet with his American counterpart. The existence of political affinity between the two leaders has been a subject of debate; are they polar opposites? Or are they ideological next-door neighbours? A multitude of political commentators, professional and amateur alike, have taken to social media to present Macron as quintessentially anti-Trump. Pro-globalism, pro-immigration, pro-trade, the list goes on. But is this accurate? Is this representation of Macron as a liberal symbol antithetic to Trumpism rooted in reality? Or is it a construction of the political imagination which so often fallaciously frames things in a dichotomous fashion?
I argue in line with the latter.
Macron’s public image is softer and more refined. His speeches are more elegant, his past is less scandalous. But once you get rid of the fancy packaging, the product looks eerily familiar. Despite Macron having marketed himself throughout the 2017 electoral campaign as a fierce advocate of liberal values, and the ideological heir of the French socialist movement that he wished to modernise, his time in power tells a different story. Indeed, his mandate so far has been tainted by a rhetoric that shares striking similarities with Trump’s. Of course, that is not to say that Macron and Trump share the exact same political DNA. There is a wide array of matters they disagree on; the benefits of free trade, the nuclear deal with Iran, or the desirability of global environmental governance. What I wish to do in this article is not to unfairly confine them in the same box, but merely debunk the idea that Macron is antithetic to Trump, that their politics are antagonistic and that their policies exist within a virtue-vice dichotomy. Macron is not the anti-Trump. More often than not, they are on the same wavelength.
There are three themes in particular that I wish to address: the violence of law enforcement agents, the deliberate and hence enabling indifference to domestic fascistic militancy, and the disregard for underprivileged communities.
France is very much full of itself. It thrives on disdainfully scoffing at America, especially since Trump’s election. One thing we particularly like to do is to talk about America’s rampant gun problem, which we attribute to the country’s perverse relation to violence. Police forces’ regular altercations with and killing of innocent Black people are regarded in the same light, as a fundamentally American issue. But the thing is, violence perpetrated by agents of the state exists in France as much as in America, and Macron’s obsession with order has a lot to do with it. The intensification of law enforcement presence to tame social dissent has resulted in an unusual brutality. Student protesters all over the country have had to face hostile police as they demonstrated against the President’s proposed reform which would restrict access to university education by establishing a more selective system. On April 20th, students occupying the campus of Tolbiac university in Paris were forcefully evacuated by the police who coordinated a surprise operation in the very early hours of the morning, injuring a few students in the process. Brutal crackdowns on demonstrations across the country are now commonplace, expected and feared by protesters. Nearby Nantes, in North-western France, a few hundred militants are currently occupying the ZAD (Zone d’Aménagement Différé), where the future airport of Notre-Dame-des-Landes is waiting to be built despite controversy surrounding the project. The ZAD occupation has resulted in a few fiery confrontations with the police, documented by regular press releases on the movement’s website. On Thursday, April 19th, Macron ordered the deployment of 2,500 military personnel and their armoured vehicles on the site, an intervention that many considered disproportionate and unjustified. The intransigence displayed by Macron is not to be celebrated as an instance of strong leadership, but merely as a sustained effort by the state to criminalise solidarity. The president is also responsible for a pattern of never-ending, spirit-breaking violence towards refugees, committed in the name of law and order. In Calais, where many migrants still live long after the ‘Jungle’ was evacuated in 2016, the altercations have taken a cruel turn. The French riot squad, named the CRS (Compagnie Republicaine de Sécurité), conducts regular operations in the refugee camp, with the intention of dissuading future migrants to settle in Calais. CRS agents are deployed in Calais for no longer than a few weeks at a time, so as not to make them sensitive to the despair of the people they tirelessly confiscate tents from. The framing of popular dissent as an evil act inducing instability, and the willingness to unleash violent forces to tame such dissent are features of a fixation with order that both leaders seem to share, and that finds expression in the way their police forces understand their job.
They also share a paradoxical tolerance for fascistic dissent. Indeed, they both seem to think that fascist militants are harmless compared with citizens exercising their right of protest. In Trump’s land, neo-nazi rallies can be held without objection from the President. In August 2017, the Charlottesville rally elicited domestic and international indignation, while the commander-in-chief blamed ‘many sides’ for the clash, and reluctantly uttered a condemnation of the violent gathering that led to a woman’s tragic passing. In the France of Macron, anti-migrant groups are flourishing, and yet there is no strong reaction from the self-proclaimed human rights proponent. Only a few days ago, an anti-migrant group called Géneration Identitaire, or Generation Identity, conducted a ‘Defend Europe’ operation in the French Alps, with the intention of intercepting migrants and handing them to the police or forcing them to turn back. Where to, you might ask? Well, bigots lack logic, this is why they are bigots in the first place. Around a hundred of them, dressed in matching blue jackets, gathered at Col de L’Echelle to apprehend migrants crossing the border from Italy. Both leaders have turned a blind eye on multiple occasions to such blatant displays of bigotry. This sort of inaction enables prejudice, by allowing the entrance of fascists into the political arena of debate, as though their harmful convictions were nothing more than controversial opinions. It enables bigots to proudly identify as such without any risk of backlash. It enabled self-identified neo-nazis to unabashedly wear swastikas and hold confederate flags in Charlottesville. It also more recently enabled a group of people who have never faced persecution in their lives to tell refugees who were forced to flee and endure several lifetimes’ worth of hardship, to go home. Trump and Macron’s indifference has enabled and will continue to enable the normalisation of such discourse. Their deliberate choice to be silent on the threat posed by rising fascist forces is a despicable trait shared by both men.
They have one more thing in common; their disregard for marginalised, politically inconsequential communities. Trump’s negligence of Puerto Rico and Macron’s alienation of overseas territories such as French Guiana are easily comparable. Last September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria successively hit the American territory, leaving it in ruins. Months after, the island was still without power, and Washington D.C manifested no particular eagerness to help. Puerto Rico is not a state, let alone one that would be a stronghold for Trump, so why bother? As far as his reasoning goes, what is not politically rewarding is not urgent. As for Macron, he has a myriad of Puerto Ricos scattered around multiple continents, vestiges of an imperial age that France is reluctant to let go of and yet is unwilling to take responsibility for. Those overseas regions have considerably higher rates of unemployment and poverty, while perpetually waiting for much needed funding from metropolitan France and the European Union. The 2009 French Caribbean general strikes, characterised by global unrest in the West Indian territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique, were an uncomfortable moment in Sarkozy’s presidency. Macron’s handling of the large-scale social movement which emerged in French Guiana in Spring 2017, calling for greater autonomy and protesting the plague of unemployment, does not differ from a long tradition of neglect by French Presidents towards overseas territories. No concessions were accorded with regards to the territory’s autonomy, maintaining its confusing status as a French region governed by European Union rules 7000 kilometres away from the Old Continent, while the funding emergency plan deployed was widely considered as insufficient. In addition to a contempt for impoverished communities, both Trump and Macron have a sweet spot for the rich, as demonstrated by Trump’s tax cuts and Macron’s wealth tax reform.
So, in lieu of a conclusion, I will reiterate: Macron is not the anti-Trump. They actually get along well, at our expense.