De Gaulle the Liberator and Macron the Alienator

Wavering and leaderless after the Second World War, the French had few to turn to but Charles de Gaulle. Never elected in prewar France, this general and self-appointed political leader of la France combattante won public approval in a landslide. Decades later, President Emmanuel Macron’s aloofness and elitism tests French confidence in the strong executive meticulously crafted by de Gaulle.

Once the confetti of the liberation parades had settled, the French looked to de Gaulle for guidance. After all, according to more than one deluded French museum, his Résistance could have liberated Paris without the Allies’ help (sorry, Eisenhower). To many French, de Gaulle stood resolutely against the whims of the liberating powers while restoring France’s internal stability and international leadership. As the first President of the Fifth French Republic, de Gaulle openly espoused a strong executive and wrote the Fifth Republic’s constitution to reflect his vision.Like a sleeping guardian, de Gaulle would awaken in times of great need to save the Republic before retiring back to isolation. Despite de Gaulle’s self-declared transcendence of party politics, the French Left saw traditionalism and Catholicism in his policies, famously pressuring him to resign in 1968.

This 1958 presidential campaign poster frames de Gaulle as a man without party, an unassailable centrist. It reads, in part, “Listen to me: Communism is servitude, party politics is impotence. Between these two extremes is the French People’s Rally.” Macron’s centrism made him similarly attractive in the 2017 election—the alternative was a far-right candidate. Note the Cross of Lorraine, a symbol of de Gaulle’s Free French Forces, in the top left.

Today, many French resent centrist President Macron as an énarque (a play on the name of his alma mater, ÉNA, and monarque), one of the distant French elite.  Our delightfully skillful bus driver, Pascal, explained that an ignored middle class opened the bleeding wound of the gilets jaunes movement: Macron’s gas tax punishes commuters who cannot afford to live near the city center. He pressed his thumb into the wound by dismissing protestors’ concerns as misinformed and fringe. Macron grows distant from his constituents: all around the Place de la Bastille hang posters of Macron bedecked in the royal robes of Louis XVI. Unlike de Gaulle, who even responded to resignation calls from outside his coalition, he takes for granted that the French will come around and continue to reject his far right opposition. Tonight’s European Parliament elections say otherwise.

“[Let’s] abolish privileges [of the nobility],” a reference to the French Revolution, featuring Macron as Roi des Français.

Today, some on the French Left call for a new republic, though support for such a measure has fallen ever since Macron began making concessions to the gilets jaunes. We most likely will not soon see a Sixth Republic, but disappointment with Macron has eroded French confidence in de Gaulle’s strong executive.


Parliament: A System in Crisis



I got the chance to tour the Parliament Building while I was in London. As it turns, an Ohio State alumnus works as a security officer and so offered my friends and I the opportunity to see the inside. As I explored Parliament, the grandeur of the art and monuments inside reminded me of the importance of the English form of democracy. Seeing all the paintings, statues, and plaques, I became reminded of the fact that Britain has always been a bastion of parliamentary democracy and that English Common Law was what laid the roots of the American system we abide by today. Such considerations garnered a sort of kinship with the English that I believe is a central aspect of the relationship between our two countries. With close ties like these, I feel as if the fate of the United States’ system of government is partially linked to that of England’s. Even when that system appears to be in crisis, perhaps the memory of what Britain stands for will serve as a rallying point for those reasonable enough to be civil about the UK’s most polarizing dilemma: Brexit.

As I listened to my guide, I concluded the current state of affairs in British Parliament is one wrought with just as much uncertainty as that of the United States. Rifts arise in current parties like UKIP, leading to the creation of new parties that only serve to accentuate the issue. MPs insult and shout at one another. Protests amass in the street daily regarding Brexit in Parliament Square. Amidst it all, Theresa May’s government is struggling to maintain power. As my tour guide said, Brexit has made the position of Prime Minister the most undesirable job in the world. With MPs becoming so angry that they are grabbing the ceremonial mace at the center of the floor and trying to hit one another with it, I understand how difficult it might be to see the light at the end of the tunnel.