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First Le Maréchal, then Mlle Maréchal

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Share the post "First Le Maréchal, then Mlle Maréchal" Is Macron’s flirtation with the far right intensifying? A week ago he gave an interview to L’Express in which, mine de rien, he dropped the names of Charles Maurras and Maréchal Pétain. Of course, he did so with a characteristically graceful pirouette, insisting that these are two important figures in French history, too important to be left out of any reckoning with the past. Indeed, they are, but did Macron invoke their names as an historian, with an eye to placing them in their context and critically evaluating their work, or did he intend to use them as icons to signal his affinity with demagogues of the far right such as Eric Zemmour, who seek to rehabilitate the exclusionary nationalism they represent?

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First Le Maréchal, then Mlle Maréchal

Is Macron’s flirtation with the far right intensifying? A week ago he gave an interview to L’Express in which, mine de rien, he dropped the names of Charles Maurras and Maréchal Pétain. Of course, he did so with a characteristically graceful pirouette, insisting that these are two important figures in French history, too important to be left out of any reckoning with the past. Indeed, they are, but did Macron invoke their names as an historian, with an eye to placing them in their context and critically evaluating their work, or did he intend to use them as icons to signal his affinity with demagogues of the far right such as Eric Zemmour, who seek to rehabilitate the exclusionary nationalism they represent? Macron is too adroit an interviewee to be pinned down on such questions, and as president he is in control of every interview he deigns to grant.

Now, however, word has leaked out of a luncheon at Le Dôme to which Marion Maréchal (ex-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie and niece of Marine) was invited by Macron’s “memory advisor,” Bruno Roger-Petit. What was the purpose of this meeting? M. Roger-Petit insists that he meant merely to gauge the state of opinion on the far right by consulting one of its leaders. Maréchal says only that she was curious why someone who used to characterize her as “a Nazi” would invite her to lunch. Both say that they agreed only to continue to disagree. Yet the symbolic import of the meeting cannot be denied, at a time when Macron is regularly accused of seeking to draw away votes from his most likely challenger in 2022, Marine Le Pen.

Roger-Petit is one of those political advisors who has taken to heart the concept of “triangulation” developed by erstwhile Clinton advisor Dick Morris. The idea is to insulate oneself from attacks by one’s opponents by co-opting their positions and ideas. Macron’s version of triangulation includes both the symbolic (such as invoking the names of nationalist “heroes” Pétain and Maurras) and the concrete (protecting the police from public scrutiny, razing migrant camps, etc.). The gestures have become too numerous to ignore and, taken together, appear to signal a concerted effort to woo voters on the far right of the political spectrum. How far will Macron dare to go in this direction? How far can he go before he fractures what remains of the already deeply fissured En Marche coalition? He is playing a dangerous game with less skill than others who have played it before him (including Mitterrand and Chirac). This latest tactic is yet another disappointment of the Macron era.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Art Goldhammer
Writer, translator, scholar, blogger on French Politics, affiliate of Harvard's Center for European Studies, writes for The American Prospect, The Nation, etc.

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