Sunday, May 14, 2017

France, The Next Unicorn

"Unicorn" is the Silicon Valley term for a startup that hits the big time. Much has been made of Macron's use of managerial language and of the Valley's go-go rhetoric of disruption and innovation. Little of that was on display in today's passation de pouvoir, which emphasized the symbolic "investiture" of the new king with the trappings of the old. Hollande was accused of never having been able to "incarnate" the monarchical French presidency. Macron aimed to "incarnate" from the get-go, his solitary procession up the red carpet to the seat of power on which the dying body of the old king still sat, waiting to be phagocyté (as the French say) by the new. When it was all over, the new king, vigorous and erect in his chaste blue suit and blue tie, accompanied the lumbering old man, now returned to the unprepossessing "normality" from which he sprang, to his waiting car.

Actually, Macron did not accompany Hollande all the way to his car. The ex-president's vehicle apparently stood on the other side of the invisible barrier separating the sacred from the profane. The newly sacralized president went with the now desacralized old man to the very edge of the royal enclosure, but from there Hollande was on his own--reduced to a disembodied arm waving wanly from an open car window. Macron waited until the old man had disappeared, then turned on his heel, regained the perron, stood for a moment with Brigitte, and then entered the palace of which he was at last in sole possession. The TV cameras were discreetly stationed to record what happened next: Brigitte was ushered away by palace flunkies, while Emmanuel bounded up the stairs four at a time to get right down to work launching France the startup on its way to becoming a unicorn. The time for regal symbolism was over; now it was back to the twenty-first century and the business of Making France Great Again (though not without ritual homage to the wounded and dead of France's wars internal and external).

I am older than François Hollande, so I couldn't help feeling a funereal pang at the sight of my generation being ushered off the world stage to make way for the eager young. But we've made a hash of things, so I suppose it's their turn. Still, I couldn't help imagining a suppressed smirk on Macron's lips as he watched Hollande being driven out the gate. In one of the documentaries on the campaign, Macron is told that his security people think it will be dangerous for him to visit striking workers at Whirlpool in Amiens. It's an angry crowd, "If you listen to the security guys," Macron says, "you end up like Hollande: safe but dead." That peremptory judgment came to mind as I watched Hollande disappear into the rue Faubourg St.-Honoré. Safe but dead. An accurate verdict on his presidency. Who can imagine what verdict will be pronounced on Macron's five years from today? To the young everything seems possible. Wisdom (which isn't nearly as satisfying as it's cracked up to be) is the discovery that it isn't.