Hubris will doom the imperial reigns of Macron and Trump

Rachel Cunliffe
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President Trump And First Lady Melania Trump Welcome President Macron And Mrs. Macron To The White House
While their politics may differ, their attitudes to governance are eerily similar (Source: Getty)

A political outsider who came out of nowhere to ride to victory on a populist movement he built himself, to the shock of the mainstream establishment.

An expert campaigner who promised that he alone had the easy fixes to the challenges that his country had been grappling with for years.

A President who now faces widespread condemnation at both his failure to live up to expectations and his egotistical governing style.

Emmanuel Macron is not having the easiest time.

On Thursday, the French government announced that the controversial fuel tax increases that have sparked violent demonstrations across the country would be axed.

The so-called “yellow vest” protests have been raging for weeks – four people have died and over 600 have been injured in confrontations with the police, involving tear gas, stun grenades, and water cannon.

What began as a demonstration against the rise in diesel duties – a key tenet of Macron’s agenda to reduce the budget deficit and make France a world-leader in cutting carbon emissions – has spread to more general unrest at the out-of-touch government. Students and ambulance drivers have also come out onto the streets, and farmers and trade unions are set to follow.

In that time, the President’s popularity has plummeted, now sitting at just 21 per cent, with a staggering 77 per cent of people disapproving.

Of course, none of this is unique. France has a lively tradition of protesters taking to the streets and ripping up the cobblestones.

Burning tyres, blocked roads, and picket lines that grind French cities to a halt are commonplace. In the past, strikers have succeeded in shutting down entire public transport systems to hold leaders of all political stripes to ransom.

And it’s not just about the government either – in 2015, Air France executives had their shirts literally ripped from their backs by angry workers after job cuts, with one forced to escape from the mob by scrambling over a fence.

So Macron is far from alone. The problem is that he promised to be different. And that is why he suddenly looks a lot like another ego-centric leader who rose to power on wild assurances that he had all the answers.

Comparisons with Donald Trump might initially spark outraged denial. Trump is, after all, on the populist, nationalist far right, whereas Macron embodies the essence of progressive globalist liberalism.

Trump calls climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese and pulled the US out of the Paris agreement, while Macron pledged to “make our planet great again” in response.

As Trump has drawn the US away from the multilateral organisations of global governance, Macron has stepped up to fill the power vacuum. His brand of forward-looking centrism has provided hope for millions of liberals across Europe despairing at the rise of the extremist left and right.

But while their politics may differ, their attitudes to governance are eerily similar.

Macron is, after all, a man who (according to Reuters) said he wanted to rule as Jupiter. Trump may not know much about classical deities, but swap the Roman king of the gods for a pop-culture equivalent and that’s a line that wouldn’t look out of place on the US President’s Twitter feed.

Like Trump, Macron won without much of a party or a team of experienced politicos, under the banner of his new “En Marche” movement (which just happens to have the same initials as his own name – very Trump-Tower-esque).

Since then, Macron’s governing style has been both imperial and aloof. He has kept the media at a distance since his election, and claimed that his thoughts are “too complex” for lowly journalists.

It might not come close to the US President’s all-out assault on reporters he calls “enemies of the people”, but it is comparable to Trump lauding his “very good brain”. Both leaders think that their rare genius somehow means that they are not accountable to the press.

But this biggest similarity lies in the Trump-Macron brand of hubris.

These men assumed that the rules just didn’t apply to them, that they could succeed at problems where past politicians failed. Now, a year or two into the gruelling, messy reality of actually governing, they are running up against the same obstacles that flummoxed their predecessors.

For the last two years, we have watched Trump, like every White House occupant before him, struggle to get his agenda off the ground.

He has had to backtrack on signature policies (his flagship Muslim ban has mostly been stalled through the courts), while others, such as scrapping Obamacare and building the infamous Mexican border wall, have met congressional gridlock.

Now, with escalating riots that have forced the government to shelve its environmental reforms, Macron is meeting a similar fate.

His agenda may differ radically from Trump’s, but his failure as a leader is down to the same core fatal flaw: arrogance.

As George Washington says in the hit musical Hamilton: “winning was easy, young man, governing’s harder”. At 72, it’s probably too late for Trump to heed this advice and change his ways. Macron is just 40; he has time to learn, if he chooses to.

If not, the beleaguered French President may end up looking less like Jupiter, god of the heavens, and more like Icarus, the arrogant boy who flew too close to the sun.

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