The stirring first lines of La Marseillaise “Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé!” – “Arise, children of the Fatherland, The day of glory has arrived!” - rang out loud and clear throughout France, Europe and the world on Sunday night. Before one gets immersed in the dissection of Emmanuel Macron’s tremendous victory and Marine Le Pen’s humiliating defeat in the French elections – and of the difficulties that lay ahead – raise a glass of Champagne exceptionnel or Burgundy merviellieux or Bordeaux fantastique as you toast French voters and their day of glory. They struck a mighty blow for Liberté, égalité, fraternité, for themselves and for the rest of us, and they did so just in the nick of time. Vive La France.
Macron’s margin of victory may have been smaller than Jacques Chirac’s 82%-18% second-round blowout in 2002 of Le Pen’s father, Jean Marie, but it was nonetheless bigger than one’s best hopes and far more massive than one’s worst fears. His was a resounding victory, clear-cut, unequivocal, not open to interpretation. It’s true that over a third of French voters opted for a racist, xenophobic, proto-Fascist candidate, and that’s a scary thought. But close to two-thirds preferred to trust a rational and moderate liberal middle-of-the-roader. That might have seemed ho-hum not long ago, but these days, it’s a cause for celebration.
Because after the conquests of Brexit and Donald Trump, against the backdrop of Tayip Erdogan’s encroaching totalitarianism and under the shadow of Vladimir Putin’s sinister interventionism, darkness started to seem unstoppable. Prejudice was winning the day. Hatred was turning hypnotic. Demagoguery was reigning supreme. Evil was waiting to pounce. Chaos lay just around the corner.
Macron’s victory stops this momentum of malice in its tracks. It gives hope to hitherto despondent lovers of democracy and decency everywhere. It shows, contrary to widespread premature prognoses, that the triumph of racism and sectarianism is not inevitable just as the defeat of tolerance and inclusiveness is not a foregone conclusion. Just as fair-minded people were losing faith in the institutions and values they hold dear, the French jolted them out of their anguish and gave them renewed faith.
Hopefully, the ripple effect that had started with Brexit and seemed to be threatening all of Europe will now be reversed. The fatalistic visions of snarling societies turning insular, rejecting anyone who doesn’t look or think like them, will dissipate, for a short time at least. Rabble -rousers and hate mongers will go on the defensive. Liberals will no longer feel like a minority about to go extinct. Good men will come to the aid of their country.
Of course, it’s only a battle. The war is far from over, not even in France itself. If Macron fails to turn his country around, if he fails to change the dynamics between old and new French people, between Christians and Muslims, between white, brown and black, if he does not give his citizens a renewed sense of purpose and his economy a stupendous shot in the arm, then the reprieve will only be temporary. The next time around Le Pen, or someone much worse, will take the French, and the rest of Europe, to the hell from which they will not return.
But in the meantime Macron’s overwhelming conquest of the French should inspire despondent freedom lovers everywhere, especially in Israel and the United States. It proves that the world has not gone completely insane. It shows what a difference the right candidate and the right message can make. It passes the torch to a new generation – Macron is only an incredible 39 - which could prove to be far better than the old. It puts to rest, at least for the time being, any concern that Europe is slipping back to its darkest days, a century ago. It injects renewed optimism in a place where there was only despair.
There will be ample time to be detached, cynical and worried again. Now is the time to gush. For the next few days, celebrate France and marvel in it. Although the Statue of Liberty is in New York, it was made, of course, in France. That mighty woman with a torch, as Emma Lazarus wrote in the New Colossus, is gracing us all with her light, and once again, her message was made in France.
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