In addition to being Trump’s ideological opposite, the French president is a beacon for progressives hoping to find their way back to the halls of power across the democratic world.
Europe’s most dynamic political leader, Emmanuel Macron, pays a state visit to Washington this week. The French president has struck up a surprisingly cordial relationship with President Donald Trump, especially when you consider that Macron has emerged as the West’s most formidable opponent of the kind of populist nationalism Trump channels here.
Speaking last week to the European Parliament, Macron warned of a “European civil war” and urged the European Union to defend liberal democracy against a surging tide of illiberal nationalism. “Faced with the authoritarianism that surrounds us everywhere, the answer is not authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy,” he declared.
The JFK-style antithesis was a reminder that U.S. presidents used to give stirring speeches like this in Europe. But that’s not happening today because Trump identifies more with the other side—with right-wing nativists and neo-nationalists who want to keep immigrants out; raise barriers to global commerce; weaken or leave the EU to protect “national sovereignty;” and, especially in Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland, undermine internal checks on strongman rule.
In effect, Macron has stepped audaciously into the vacuum created by Trump’s abdication of America’s historic role as keeper of the liberal democratic flame. Although some have anointed Germany’s Angela Merkel the new “leader of the free world,” she’s been preoccupied with shoring up a weak coalition government and stanching defections from her conservative base to the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
In addition to being Trump’s ideological opposite, Macron can be viewed as something of a beacon for progressives hoping to find their way back to the halls of power across the democratic world. As a progressive, young outsider who rode a wave of voter revolt against the governing establishment, Macron managed to capture the populist’s insurgent spirit without embracing their reactionary demands. That, in a nutshell, is the task facing other progressive parties as they struggle to expand their popular appeal.
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