The Case for an American Macron
Editor’s Note: This blog is part of an ongoing series of contributions from participants in The German Marshall Fund’s flagship leadership development program, The Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF).
With a steady gait Emmanuel Macron took his victory lap through the Louvre esplanade, marching to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy — the official anthem of the European Union. As the youngest president in France’s history, he offers a new generation of voters hope with his vision of national unity, economic reform, and respect for multilateral institutions. Over the next five years, he offers the potential to shift the political order in France by governing from the center and strengthening institutions such as NATO and the EU that have prevented mass conflict since the end of World War II. Can his model of electoral disruption be applied to a polarized United States?
The United States and France share a common political atmosphere. Rural districts and rust belt cities see dark clouds hovering over their homeland — a storm fomented by globalization and immigration. Urban megacenters from Chicago to Paris experience microclimates. The central business districts bask in the sunlight offered by steady economic growth and full employment while residents of lower income neighborhoods remain in thick fog created by decades of disenfranchisement. Until all citizens experience more balanced weather patterns and retain confidence in the forecast, the political landscape will remain polarized.
Macron sees a world with interconnected weather patterns — the fronts of Asia and North America will more rapidly impact France and its European neighbors. His model promotes the strength of institutions to address challenges in the political and economic order of France. He recognizes the need for a cohesive European Union as a strong trading block to maintain leverage with larger markets in the United States and China. NATO has staved off threats from Russia, prevented mass war in Europe, and focused on countering radical extremism. Both institutions have suffered recent setbacks. The EU has enabled the rise of illiberal democracies in Hungary and Poland and NATO failed to counter Russian expansion in Crimea and provide sufficient intelligence to prevent ISIS-organized or inspired attacks in Europe. However Macron understands that a crumbling EU and dissolution of NATO would increase global instability while also promoting the influence of Russia and China — two antidemocratic nations whose citizens lack basic freedoms of assembly, press, worship, and privacy.
Macron’s methodology to strengthen multilateral institutions and reform the business environment in France is bold. He created a new political party and promised to unite the center left and center right, and he pledged to bring new leaders into his administration to break with the past. He will seek unpopular labor reforms while trying to respect the rich tradition of workers’ rights in France. Most importantly, he took political risks to embrace European unity and multilateralism. The French people rewarded his vision by giving him an unprecedented leadership mandate.
The rise of Macron offers a stark contrast to the policies of Donald Trump, who campaigned on a platform of “America First” which sees economic and political relationships as a zero-sum-game. If the EU wins, then the United States must be losing (and vice-versa). Trump downplays the geopolitical threats posed by Russia and seeks to alter transatlantic relationships that have maintained peace and security in the West since World War II.
Can U.S. leaders learn from Marcon’s path to power? Domestic politics in the United State have reached record levels of polarization — creating an opening for a Macron-like figure to unite the center of the political spectrum. The rise of anti-establishment figures like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders has increased demand for a centrist candidate that will seek compromise between left and right to move the country forward. The candidate may be able to operate within the current apparatus of the Democratic or Republican party, but serious consideration should be granted to visionary candidates from outside the current political establishment. Under the Trump presidency, the United States is in danger of ceding its banner of global leadership. Can we learn from the Macron case study? Can a deeper embrace of centrist politics, global trade, and multilateral institutions also bring more prosperity to skeptical Americans? This is the central leadership question for the next generation of American political leaders.
Samir Maykekar, Co-Founder and CEO of SiNode Systems in Chicago, IL, is a Spring 2017 American Marshall Memorial Fellow.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.