The Outsiders: Divergent Paths for Trump & Macron

Amidst the political turmoil and dysfunction that currently characterizes much of the West, we see old-style leaders flailing as they pursue old-style remedies that no longer work.          

In striking contrast, we find two new-style leaders attempting very different solutions that may or may not work: France's Emmanuel Macron and America's Donald Trump.  Comparing their track records is highly instructive relative to the ways in which today's world is changing.

Editor: This is the fourth in Moloney’s series on the West’s new political landscape. Previous columns are here and here and here.

Though the two are polar opposites in personality, the similarities in how they gained power and how they look at the world are startling.  Both men were outsiders who had never held elective office.   

Both ascended to the presidency in circumstances that turned the existing political order upside down. Both transcended the old left-right divide.  Both realized that the traditional Western middle class was disappearing.

Both recognized that the long socially and economically stable lower middle class lived in geographical areas--small cities and towns, rural agricultural regions--that had lost their capacity to create jobs and participate meaningfully in a new globalized economy.           

Both Macron and Trump implemented the policies they promised, but their policies rested on radically different premises and had dramatically different results.

France's Christophe Guilluy--author in 2016 of the groundbreaking Twilight of the Elites--published a notable article last September in the English-language Guardian, entitled "Trump's Poll Ratings are Better than Macron's After a Year, Why?" Nearly a year later, both the interpretation Guilluy advanced and the poll numbers he cited have held up exceedingly well.

Macron's approval ratings as of this May are in the high twenties, up from a low of 23% in December. Trump's numbers as tabulated by the Real Clear Politics average of polls has hovered in the mid-forties throughout his presidency.   

Guilluy explains this stark disparity quite simply.  The people who elected Macron have been gravely disappointed by the results he has produced, and thus his poll numbers- in the low sixties at the outset of his presidency--have plunged to a level comparable to the failed presidency of his predecessor, Francois Hollande.          

Trump, on the other hand--though still utterly despised by his opponents--has delivered on his promises in a manner that has basically satisfied the people who elected him.    

Witness the slumping French economy--high unemployment, low job creation, and generally mired in stagnation--and the booming American economy, where those indicators are essentially the opposite.

However, it is the "why" part of Guilluy's article that is most compelling.  In short, he attributed the two presidents’ very different levels of success to their diametrically opposed approaches to globalization.        

Macron (to quote the Guardian piece) "believes the solution is to speed up reform to bring the country into line with the requirements of the global economy".  He also doubled down on his advocacy of multilateralism as embodied in the European Union, the Paris climate accords, the Iran nuclear deal, and permissive immigration policies.          

"Trump, by contrast” (quoting again), “concluded that globalization was the problem, and that the economic model it as based on would have to be reined in through protectionism, limits on free trade agreements, and controls on immigration."  His doctrine of "America First” also made clear his disdain for multilateralism and support for traditional independent nation states.        

Macron's tragedy is that his economically defensible reform measures—such as eliminating the long-standing "wealth tax", increasing taxes on old age pensioners, and placing restrictions on labor unions— backfired and outraged large segments of the French electorate that had so recently propelled him to power.  

His worst mistake, however, was bowing to the environmental lobby by sharply increasing the hated fuel tax, which hammered the lower middle class and led to the explosive "yellow vest" protests, which essentially crippled his presidenc       

Trump's preference was to lower taxes rather than raise them.  Yes, his aggressive economic nationalism, relentless opposition to uncontrolled immigration, and general hostility to multilateralism have infuriated the elites of both political parties.  But these policies have generally played well with the electorate that put him in the White House, and have sustained his poll numbers while those of Macron were collapsing.           

While it is too early to make a final judgment on the legacy of these singular outsiders--much political peril is still ahead for both--their contrasting policies and performance have already told us much about the tumultuous age in which we live.

Bill Moloney covers national and international politics for the America Blog. His columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post and Human Events.

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