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When, one year ago, President Emmanuel Macron designed the setting for his first official photograph he placed himself in front of a desk in the Elysée Palace on which lay a copy of the War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle — a work which he appears to have studied with care.
(Illustration by Michael Daley)


At first glance there could hardly be two less similar men. Macron, short, slim, regularly formed, neat good looks — something of the lithe air of a tango professor about him, with a warm smile, a willingness to please, quietly spoken, every mother’s darling. Opposite Charles de Gaulle, huge in stature, long thin legs supporting a prominent paunch, sloping shoulders and then a drôle de tête, with the massive beaky nose and the invisible chin, a cartoonist’s dream, silent, charmless, grumpy, given to terrifying fits of rage, and absolutely nobody’s cheri. And yet these two men share a number of dominating characteristics — unusually quick intelligence, disdain for most of their fellow beings, a brazen capacity to deceive both their colleagues and their opponents, and an exceedingly sharp eye for the main chance. And Macron demonstrates another common characteristic which has served him well. He is remarkably difficult to read — unpredictability is Macron’s stock in trade.

In many ways the comparison is absurd. De Gaulle’s life was lived on a heroic scale, not something Emmanuel Macron is ever likely to experience, despite his vast ambitions. It is difficult to imagine de Gaulle spending €29,000 on 35 makeup sessions for instance, and le Grand Charles would probably not have invited Annie Leibowitz into his domestic life to immortalise it in Vanity Fair. But both men’s style of government has been described as jupitérien, and like de Gaulle, Macron is multiplying the regional tours and the walkabouts. He has a hypnotic gaze and is never happier than when he is plunging into a group of voters, smiling, embracing, distributing physical contact as though he were curing the “King’s Evil” (scrofula) under the ancien regime. His election was assured by left-of-centre voters, but he has modelled his first year in power on the methods of a hero of the Right, and there are further similarities in the way in which that power was achieved.

In 1958 de Gaulle was recalled to office to rewrite France’s Constitution and replace the Fourth Republic with the Fifth. He, who had always scorned professional politicians, governed with an open contempt for the powers of the National Assembly, where he lacked an overall majority. And he twice amended the constitution (by referendum) to increase his own power at the expense of the elected deputies.

In 2017 Macron’s unforeseen election victory was won by wrong-footing the leaders of the Fifth Republic and reducing the established political parties to irrelevance. When he was elected (running against Marine Le Pen) the pundits said that he owed his victory to a rejection of the Front National, and that he would never win a majority in the National Assembly because he was not backed by his own party. In the event Macron’s REM (La République En Marche) and its centrist allies won an overall majority of 123 with the Socialists, who had been in government for 20 of the previous 36 years, managing a pathetic total of 45 out of 577 seats. The French Constitution remained unchanged, but the alternating left-right see-saw by which political power could be switched, had been dismantled, and the Republic that has emerged from Macron’s election victory bears little resemblance to its founding model.
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Anonymous
June 10th, 2018
3:06 PM
The "X" have ruled for long enough to forget that the Battle of the Palace of the Martyrs was not the finish of Empire-building, but only a setback for the losers. This time the invasion is all but complete and just awaits the end-game.

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