comments

Performances

Macron_signs_revolution-

This column by Eric Hazan was commissioned by Le Monde for its "debate" section as a request for the author’s "opinion on Macron’s 90% vote in Paris" in the second round of the presidential election). The paper ultimately refused to publish it and it appeared in Lundimatin. Translated by David Broder. 

2015 was the hottest year on record in Paris; in 2016 Jeff Koons’s exhibition attracted the highest number of visitors the Pompidou Centre has seen since its foundation; and in 2017 Parisians’ vote for Emmanuel Macron hit 90%. These last two records do indeed have something in common; for throughout their careers the men who hold these records have been professionals in persuasion. Jeff Koons was a raw materials broker on Wall Street, and this experience doubtless equipped him in convincing rich amateurs — including Bernard Madoff, now serving a 150-year prison sentence for fraud — that his blow-up rabbits and pigs in sugar represented the very cutting edge of the avant-garde. For his part, at Rothschild’s bank Emmanuel Macron sharpened the powers of persuasion that allowed his success in steering Nestlé’s purchase of Pfizer powdered milk, for some nine billion euros. Another point they have in common is kitsch: and the people were offered a sample of this kitsch at the Louvre on results night. Jeff Koons could not have done any better himself.

We might think that Macron’s score in Paris, far above the national average (89.68%, as against 66.06% across France) is linked to sociological changes, and the social weight of a vast layer of designers, business advisors, programmers, and other creatives who identified with a young, non-conformist executive, launching his presidency like a start-up. Their social weight was doubtless decisive in giving the city its two Socialist mayors in succession — to whom we owe, among other delights, the canopy over Les Halles, the destruction of La Samaritaine [a 19th century department store closed in 2005] and soon the Tour Triangle [a skyscraper currently under construction]. But this does not itself explain Macron’s triumph in Paris. In the first round, he was ahead only in half the arrondissements, with the other half being split between the wealthier constituencies where Fillon won (52% in the 7th arrondissement, 50% in the 8th, 58% in the 16th) and the more popular ones where the sum of Mélenchon and Hamon’s votes was higher than Macron’s. 

If we need a sociological explanation for Macron’s 90% score, we instead have to look to the other side. His triumph is arithmetically connected to the weakness of the enemy camp. In Paris, Mrs. Le Pen got as bad a score as her father had in 2002: one in ten votes (as against one in three nationwide). In pushing the poor out of the twenty arrondissements, we have thereby forced out the very people whose anger — perverted — would ordinarily feed the Front National vote. Mrs. Le Pen achieved her least bad scores in the poshest neighbourhoods — in the 7th, 8th, 15th and 16th arrondissements — doubtless helped by the votes of Sens commun and the Manif pour tous [right-wing Catholic, "family values" movements]. But just nearby, in what we call the "periurban" areas, the Front National vote was two or three times what it was in Paris.

We can quibble over Macron’s 90% vote, reasoning that with more than 20% abstention and over 10% blank and spoiled votes — as well as the certainly large number of people who voted for him despite their own convictions — this victory was no popular mandate. But even so, the mass of those who chose Mélenchon or Hamon in the first round were persuaded that they should go along and vote for Macron in the second (there was a more than 90% Macron vote in the 19th and 20th arrondissements, where Mélenchon was in the lead in the first round). 

This was the result of an unprecedented media campaign waged throughout the period between the two rounds — and even before the first. This campaign was based on two axes: on the one hand, the eulogies to a candidate "standing alone before History" and the ever-repeated narrative of his "staggering journey"; on the other hand, the danger that Mrs. Le Pen’s victory would represent to "our values" and "the Republic." This latter was a victory that any good fourth-grader could have judged impossible in the wake of the first round, given that she had just over 20% of the vote and no possible allies (and our fourth-grader could not have predicted her marriage with Debout la France [party led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, moving from Gaullism toward the hard Right; he would have been Le Pen’s prime minister], which amounted to a few scraps from the bin). In the mass of barrage fire coming from the media, from [centre-Left weekly] l’Obs to [right-wing news channel] BFM TV and from Le Monde to Le Figaro, we could see many converging causes: Macron’s very real capacities to seduce journalists; the recognition that sales went up when Emmanuel and [his wife] Brigitte were on the front cover; the convergence of interests between the media barons and a man from their own milieu, whose ideas and projects they knew (and yes, journalists do enjoy a certain independence from their proprietors, but in some cases…).

In any case, what sticks out amidst this mass vote is a feeling of absurdity. The absurdity of a mechanism that brings to power a man we know nothing about, and who has grounded his success precisely in his capacity to say nothing (the back cover of his book Révolution has not one line of text, but just a full page photo of Macron himself). The absurdity of a system that gives a crushing majority to such a man, in order to avoid a danger that is largely imaginary. Most of all, the absurdity of a focus on elections that we all feel have nothing to do with our lives, and which we all feel are playing out on a sort of flying carpet, above our heads. The coming struggles will show the 90% of Parisians-for-Macron for what they are; an undreamt-of diversion, or a transitional object, as psychoanalysts say when they talk about children’s comfort blankets. The fall to ground will be harder.