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Macron Wins the First Round

Walter Russell Mead

With Emmanuel Macron’s slim victory in the first round of the French elections, the narrative in the press has more-or-less echoed this lede from the Financial Times:

The French presidential election has turned into a binary contest between two political outsiders: one a staunch defender of the postwar liberal order and the other a fierce populist intent on tearing it down. These opposing forces place France at the heart of a faultline running through Western democracies.

Another way to put it is that Europe has escaped the drama of rapid catastrophe in favor of clinging to the slow decline of the status quo toward failure.

Macron has some good ideas, but there is zero evidence that a candidate without a strong party backing him, who attracted less than a quarter of the vote in a contest with a Communist nut-job, a seemingly corrupt establishmentarian, and a rightwing extremist, can impose the kinds of changes on the French that they have been fighting for years. The result only looks heartening because Euro-pessimism has grown so intense and pervasive both in Europe and in the wider world.

Now the entire French establishment is uniting to defend a status quo that doesn’t work for France and that, apparently, cannot be reformed. The most likely outlook is for continuing economic and political stagnation in France, a few inadequate reforms that are bitterly resented and resisted, and a gradual, continuing rise in social tensions and alienations.

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