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Cassidy: French Election Perspectives

I just happened to be in France during the recent presidential election there, and discovered the French candidates had some interesting things in common with our current president.

Like Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron had never been elected to office. While his banking background had led to appointed positions in the national government including Minister of the Economy, when he decided just a year ago to set up a new political party and run for President, mainstream politicians dismissed him, saying that, at 38 when he began his run, he was too young and too inexperienced.

Like Trump, Macron used his inexperience to tap into the French public’s hunger for change, though they differed in other ways. Macron's positions on issues seemed vague, but his energy, optimism, directness and clean reputation were refreshing. His leading opponent, François Fillon, faded after reports that he’d put his wife on the government payroll for a no-show job.

Macron’s opponent in the final runoff, Marine Le Pen, though a veteran politician, resembled Donald Trump in both substance and style. She offered a dark vision of France, filled with dangers, including weak borders and radical Islam - which she promised to fight. Her campaign literature boasted that President Trump had praised her strength.

Macron’s victory was a landslide – 66.10% to Le Pen’s 33.9% - and just a week later he was inaugurated. In fact, Macron’s party, En Marche, is so new that he’ll need the support of a range of other parties to accomplish anything. Macron is discovering - again like President Trump, even with his majority in Congress - that governing is much harder than campaigning.

On election night, a French TV station broadcast a documentary about Macron’s campaign. Macron had invited the cameras to follow him everywhere – a commitment to transparency unimaginable for our President.

Other interesting comparisons between the two presidents are personal. Macron fell in love with when his former teacher when he was 15 and they’re still married. She's 24 years older than he is, and that’s the same gap that separates President Trump from his younger third wife.
A cartoon showed Macron admiring a special and fictitious button on his desk in his new office for ordering fries. I wondered if it was a sly reference to our president who has shown visitors a special button on his desk for ordering cold Cokes - whenever he likes.

Maggie Brown Cassidy recently retired from teaching French at Brattleboro Union High School. She was also a teacher trainer and founder of the BUHS Swiss Exchange, which provided homestays and immersion experiences for hundreds of students in Vermont and Geneva. She continues to teach adults and has written many features for the Brattleboro Reformer.
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