Monday, May 8, 2017

Macron Becomes Youngest Man to Win French Presidential Election

La tour Eiffel illuminée en bleu blanc rouge - Fluctuat nec Mergitur - Liberté, égalité, fraternité

La tour Eiffel illuminée en bleu blanc rouge - Fluctuat nec Mergitur - Liberté, égalité, fraternité

The results of the French presidential election are now in, and yes, it's official: Emmanuel Macron has become the youngest man ever elected president. Also, France and the United States remain as two of the major western powers who have never yet elected a woman to be head of state.

This race garnered incredible attention from around the world, as it seemed to hold a tremendous significance either way. If Macron won, then the wave of nationalism would be stemmed, at least temporarily. If LePen won, then it would be the latest validation that nationalism was on the rise throughout the west, following on the heels of Brexit and the Trump victory last year.

Well, the race is over now. 

The result is that the fears of this being just the latest of a wave of nationalist triumphs have been allayed - at least for now.

Macron won in a landslide, grabbing over 66 percent of the vote, and making short work of LePen.

However, it should be noted that this is the second time in the 21st century that the Front National has made it to the second and final round of the French presidential elections. It also happened in 2002, an event which truly shook the country, and indeed, much of the world. At that time, the founder of the party was Jean-Marie LePen, and he was, and still is, viewed as blatantly racist and xenophobic by most. It was shocking that he got enough votes to qualify for the second round, although he did not gain more than that once there, registering only 18 percent of the vote, as Jacques Chirac won re-election with a resounding triumph.

Shortly after that, though, Jean-Marie LePen's daughter, Marine LePen, took over the movement, and transformed it. She smoothed over some of the rougher edges, trying to disassociate it automatically as a racist and xenophobic movement, and her father was kicked out of the very party that he created (although some people felt that this was, effectively, a publicity stunt to make the party more digestible to the public). While still essentially taking a harsh tone towards Muslims in France, and voicing skepticism about the European Union, she nonetheless lent the movement a softer touch, and it became more socially acceptable to support the movement, which had been something that most people would not necessarily admit to supporting earlier (kind of like the seeming social stigma against Trump voters earlier last year yielding to much louder and more boisterous support later). For this election, LePen's new and improved Front National, if you will, had become a serious contender, and for the first time, was actually favored to move onto the second round of voting.

Macron had formed his own political movement, called On Marche! (or Onwards or Forward). However, some people saw some things that made them uncomfortable about him. He has a background as an investment banker, which some people construed as close ties to big banks and corporations. I saw some Facebook posts from friend and family who also pointed out that he had a terrible record on animal rights. He had never been elected to any major political office before, although there were other aspects about him that most Americans could relate to as concerns about a politician being too close and comfortable to the business establishment. His background in banking, and his economic platform and pro-European Union (EU) stance, at a time when skepticism of big corporations and of the EU in general is at it's highest in decades, if not ever, has made a lot of people nervous. Some have even suggested that Macron will essentially continue the economic policies of current French President François Hollande, which are generally viewed as flawed and as a failure.

Hollande's own approval ratings were so low entering this race, that he announced early on that he would not be seeking re-election. 

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