Emmanuel Macron’s overwhelming win over Marine LePen in France today was a victory of tolerance, human decency and a positive future for Europe. LePen’s brand of ugly nativist neo-fascism was so badly rejected again that LePen is moving to rebrand and change the name of the Front National. Attempts by foreign agents to sway the election by hacking into Macron’s personal email utterly failed, in yet another victory for democracy and fair elections.
But the story is just beginning. Turnout in the French election was a historic low, and voters who backed more populist left candidates like Hamon and Melenchon are still not pleased with the choices they offered. Most notably, France biggest trade unions don’t trust Macron any farther than they can throw him, and are staging demonstrations to force him and the center-left to acknowledge and deal with the economic pain that is driving so many voters to nationalist fascism:
France’s biggest trade unions on Sunday issued warnings over the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the country’s presidential election, with one union calling for a demonstration on May 8.
The CFDT, France’s biggest union, welcomed Macron’s victory in a statement but added that the National Front’s score was still too high.
“Now, all the anxieties expressed at the ballot by a part of the electorate must be heard. The feeling of being disenfranchised, of injustice, and even abandonment is present among a large number of our citizens. The CFDT calls on Emmanuel Macron not to turn a deaf ear to this despair,” it said.
Even MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid, long hostile to populist leftism, acknowledged the issue today on twitter:
We need a global conversation on how to develop a “compassionate capitalism” that answers economic displacement w/ alternatives to fascism.
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) May 7, 2017
The “Compassionate capitalism” flag isn’t likely to fly: a majority of American millennials now have a negative perception of capitalism itself, and the sentiment is even more hostile in western Europe. “Compassionite conservatism” was George W. Bush’s mantra, after all. But whether one calls it “democratic socialism” as one ought, or “compassionate capitalism” as Reid would prefer, the point remains that economic dislocation must be addressed in a systemic way by liberal parties, or fascist candidates and parties will continue to gain greater sway over an increasingly angry and desperate electorate. Whatever gains tolerant liberals make in nations with changing demographics will be more than offset by the political fracturing of dispossessed youth and the alienation of all workers unable to join the tech and information economies.
Centrist critics argue that the left wants policies resembling Venezuela or or Soviet Russia, but this silly. Western societies are beset with record wealth and income inequality, even as capital markets are generally more deregulated and lightly taxed than in almost a century. This is happening as both globalization and automation take a dramatic and increasing toll on low-skill labor from manufacturing to service. And the problem is just beginning: automation and online flattening are likely to destroy an enormous number medium- and high-skill jobs in the near future, from lawyers to radiologist to stock brokers. There is more than enough room to correct the unprecedented imbalance between labor and capital without devolving into the evils of left totalitarianism.
One suspects that when white collar workers in Manhattan and Paris finally start feeling the pinch from an economy that is only currently “leaving behind” people who aren’t in their immediate social circles, suddenly it will become conventional wisdom to embrace more radical economic policies. But if we wait that long, young people and those in the exurbs and rural areas will obliterate tolerant, multi-cultural democracy before we get a chance to make needed reforms in a productive, careful way that embraces equal opportunity for all races and genders.
So, many congratulations to Macron and to France for pushing back the tide of fascism. Now let’s get to work making the hard decisions to shift the balance of power back to labor and away from capital.