France has a completely new government. The new president, Emmanuel Macron, is the nation's youngest leader since Napoleon. The parliament is dominated by the new party Macron created just last Fall, a "centrist" entity called En Marche! The ranks of its representatives include more than a hundred who have never before held public office, including a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who was adopted by a French couple and a mathematician who won the Fields Medal for his work on "proofs of nonlinear Landau damping and convergence to equilibrium of the Boltzmann equation." In one sense this is rather remarkable: French politicians tend to hang around for decades, and many come from families that have been in politics for generations. For a party to go from creation to majority in six months must be some kind of record.
Macron may be a new man, but so far as I can see he has no new ideas. He seems to me like a standard representative of the global elite, eerily like Bill Clinton or Tony Blair, or maybe more like a white, uncool Barack Obama. His election manifesto is full of political biolerplate like, "What is our program? Bringing France into the 21st century." I spent fifteen minutes perusing the manifesto and I did not find a single plank that Obama and many other American Democrats would not have endorsed – in fact Obama did endorse Macron.
Some of this was strategy on Macron's part. His plan was to be the sane, professional, non-corrupt, pro-Europe, anti-racist, alternative to Le Pen, so there was a studied vagueness to much of what he said. More than most such documents, the En Marche! manifesto was designed not to lose any votes rather than to generate enthusiasm. The absence of a single interesting idea or controversial proposal was intentional. But that, to me, is rather chilling.
Macron does have a record in government, so we know something about what he is likely to do. He favors reducing some regulations on business to help create jobs, and he supported the controversial El Khomri law that made it easier for French companies to fire workers. He thinks the future of the French economy depends on making French companies more competitive through eased regulation and making French workers more competitive through better education and training. He supports a strong welfare state and comprehensive environmental protections, including a major effort to reduce CO2 emissions. He is strongly anti-racist and has opposed bans on head scarves but has tried to stake out a middle position on immigration, calling for both more aid to legal immigrants and tougher border control to keep out others. He is somewhat hawkish in foreign policy and has called for a UN backed military effort to remove Assad from power in Syria.
Is anti-racism plus neo-liberalism a solution to our problems? Or will it just keep the world idling along as it has been, with more and more inequality, economic and social alienation, permanent disability, terrorism, anxiety, and anger? Does it promise any hope for dealing with the bewildering future?
I know many educated French people feel that they dodged a bullet when Macron defeated Le Pen, but I have a nagging suspicion that they dodged the bullet by stepping into a bottomless mire.
Macron would probably say, and I know Obama would say, that the path we are on – globalization, diversity, the mixed economy, every-increasing pressure to study hard and work hard or else fall out of the middle class – is going to be a hard road, but it's the only road to a prosperous, democratic future. You may not like it, but there just is no other way.
There are no shortcuts to prosperity and stability, just unceasing effort.
And maybe that's right; I certainly don't have any other ideas.
I just have a bad feeling that unless something happens to change the political trajectory, the world's democracies are in for an upheaval that will make this year's Trump/Brexit explosion seem like spilled milk.