PARIS - Suddenly, an hour after the results were announced, television screens around the Louvre showed the image of a young, palpably emotional man. He said things that viewers didn’t even hear, distracted as they were by his tone, which was despondent and intimate, yet resonating.
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He didn’t smile once during his speech and didn’t blink as he grimly looked the French nation in the eye. It was almost as if he was about to tell little children that their entire family had died.
Mesmerized, the French watched the new president they had elected, their youngest leader since Napoleon III, and younger than John F. Kennedy, Justin Trudeau and Tony Blair when they were elected. And this young man looked back at France, looking almost lost, as though he just then realized the magnitude of the responsibility resting on his shoulders.
He said words like “fraternity,” “renewal” and “future,” but his eyes spoke volumes and the message was different and horrifyingly mature: Winning is easy. Our real test starts now.
Emmanuel Macron pulled off what had sometimes seemed impossible. He halted the rise of the far right and sent the National Front into internal sparring from which it will emerge bruised and weaker.
He won by a bigger margin than expected, bigger than what the National Front had set as its minimum goal. He was elected despite the irresponsible far leftists, who in anticipation of the National Assembly election preferred to weaken Macron as much as possible by either abstaining or putting in a blank ballot.
But his legitimacy is crystal clear: 21 million Frenchmen voted for him, more than for Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 (19 million) or François Hollande in 2012 (18 million). The percentage of abstentions wasn’t a record for the republic, and it was lower than in the last Knesset election and certainly lower than in the last American presidential race.
Which is good, because far-left demonstrations against him began last night, and in the days to come every possible political trick will be used by left and right to join his coalition without joining him.
And that is what his grave mien sought to convey. That is what he wanted to say: I was elected by default, I know that. The leading right-wing candidate got embroiled in corruption suspicions, the leftist candidate floundered, the far-right candidate was blocked by the votes of people who don’t necessarily like me. But even if you might be elected by default, you can’t run a country by default. That’s why everything starts tonight.
“France will be led by a woman, either me or Mrs. Merkel,” Marine Le Pen jibed at him in one of those broadsides that locked in her defeat. The French knew that the opposite was true: A man would lead France, either Macron or Mr. Putin. They opted for Macron.
If that grim young man fails in his challenge for the next five years, one can hardly expect the goddess Fortuna to smile on France again as she did last night. One cannot again block the distress of the far right, the confusion of the far left, and the hatred, the anxiety, the racism and the national suicide.
The French elected Emmanuel Macron to save them from themselves, and he looked at them with eyes that were frightened, tearful and grim. But they were also more determined than those of any president before him for years.