Two Presidents: Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump

The new presidents, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron, so different in personality, behavior, career, and background, share in common a designation as political “outsiders.” Certainly, the life experience of the two men is unusual. The 70-year-old U.S. president is married to the 47-year-old Melania. The 39-year-old French President is married to the 63-year-old Brigitte. Macron is the youngest president in French history. Trump on election was the oldest president in U.S. history.

But their political careers share a number of characteristics, common issues, and results, in their rise to power. Both are ambitious men, individuals on the move whose political rise has been meteoric. Both have detractors denying their ability to govern, or even understand the political world, but both also have loyal followers. Though they are not familiar, President Trump congratulated Macron on his “big win,” and looked forward to working with him.

First, neither has held previous elective office, and neither has had any or full backing by a mainstream political party. Both are relative political neophytes. The wealthy businessman and TV personality Trump had previous party affiliations including Democratic, before identifying with the Republican party. The elite educated, former civil servant, investment banker, and short term political minister of economics Macron was a member of the Socialist party from 2006-2009, before on April 6, 2016 forming his own political movement En Marche! (On the Move), in effect more of a fan club that quickly grew rather than a traditional political party.

Secondly, neither Trump and Macron can claim majority support since they were elected by a minority of the electorate. Trump, in a turnout of 55%, obtained 46.1% of the vote while Hillary Clinton got 48.2%. In the first round of the French presidential election more than 40% voted for an extremist candidate: 21.3% for National Front leader Marine Le Pen, and 19.5% for the far left Moroccan-born Jean-Luc Melenchon who formed his own movement La France Insoumise (France defiant).  In the second round, Macron won with 66.1% of the vote to 33.9% for Le Pen, but this was only 43.6% of the electorate.

Thirdly, the abstention rate was high. In the U.S. it was 45% of the electorate. In France absentees were 25.4% of the electorate, and another 12% sent spoiled or blank ballots.

Fourthly, both had luck in having the opponents they did. A saying attributed to Napoleon in various forms is his insistence on the importance of luck. The most well-known form of it is, “I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.” Trump had Hillary Clinton. Macron, who ran a good, energetic, unorthodox campaign, was fortunate not to face center-rightist Francois Fillon, the front runner for a time. Fillon was disgraced and lost voter support with revelation of the fake jobs for his wife Penelope at taxpayer expense as well as the benefits she obtained from a friend, a wealthy publisher named Marc Ladreit Lacharriere, who gave Penelope a fake job as a “literary consultant” at his magazine at a monthly salary of 5,000 euros a month. Yet, in spite of this, Fillon had received 15.1% of the vote on the first round of the election.

Both the U.S. and France experienced some demonstrations after the election. In the U.S., those demonstrations and even riots continue. In France, petrol bombs were thrown at the police and there were a few protests, supposedly of an anti-capitalist nature. The situation in France would have been far worse if Le Pen had won. Those concerned with public safety were anxious about a possible national crisis and outbreaks of violence. A secret plan was prepared, Protect the Republic, to prevent civil unrest and to convene the National Assembly in emergency session.

Macron on being elected said, “our task is immense.” In the campaign, he had in ambiguous fashion identified himself as “neither right nor left.” As president, a major problem for him is that party loyalties may reassert themselves. Macron has now formed his own party, LREM, (Republic on the Move), and is aiming to run a full slate of 577 candidates for the National Assembly elections to be held on June 11 and 18. To further this objective, Macron has stated that parliamentary candidates can be endorsed by LREM and still remain members of their own party.

So far, 428 candidates are running under the banner of LREM: there is exact gender parity, with 214 of each gender, as well as insistence on probity and political pluralism. A considerable number are new to parliamentary politics and some are unusual. One is the former female bullfighter and actress, Marie Sara, whose godfather is the film director Jean-Luc Godard. Others are a gifted mathematician, Cedric Villani, who won the Fields Medal, a retired judge, and an air force fighter pilot who fought in Syria. It is notable that Macron withdrew two candidates who on Twitter promoted boycott of Israel.

If Donald Trump is still draining the swamp in Washington, Macron is cleverly fishing in the French pool for his government ministers. There are two interesting features. One is that there is gender parity in the 18 positions, though most of the senior ones go to men, all believers in France adhering to the EU. The other is that astutely he is maintaining his campaign position of being neither left nor right, thus helping his parliamentary campaign. They include moderate members of a number of different political parties, as well as newcomers, such as an immunology and medical specialist as health minister. Some are political figures if not well known.

Other figures are surprising. One is the choice of Olympic epee fencing champion Guadeloupe born Laura Flessel-Colovic, carrier of the French flag at the London 2012 games, as sports minister. With five medals, she is ranked no. 1 on the list of French female Olympic medal winners.

Other ministers have some political experience. Bruno le Maire, himself a presidential candidate in his primary party election where he got less than 3% of the vote, a conservative or center-right member of Les Republicains, is economy minister. He was a junior minister for European affairs under President Sarkozy and a former agricultural minister. A German speaking conservative, Le Maire is pro-business, thus providing a link to Germany.

Other politicians not nationally known include Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre, of the center right, appointed as prime minister, Gerard Collomb , Socialist mayor of Lyon, as Interior minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, Socialist former defense minister under President Hollande, a close friend, as Foreign minister, Francois Bayrou, leader of modern democrats , as Justice minister, and Gerald Darmanin, a 34-year-old republican, also relatively unknown as budget minister.

The most prominent woman is Sylvie Goulard, a centrist and a woman who speaks four languages fluently, as defense minister. In addition to Laura Flessel-Colovic, a third woman, Francoise Nyssen, of the Modern party, and head of a publishing company Actes Sud, is minister of culture.

Macron, though a supporter of the EU, is similar to Donald Trump in emphasis on his country. He is not a man of the right, but has declared that the world and Europe need a strong France. Trump will admire Macron’s determination to do everything necessary to fight terrorism, as well as to deal with the migrant crisis. This suggests a willingness and ability to work with President Trump, and perhaps the beginning of a beautiful friendship.