Day: May 7, 2017
Neophyte politician Emanuele Macron today is projected to have won the French presidency, defeating nationalist Marine Le Pen. The outcome will not end the anti-European Union, anti-euro, anti-NATO, anti-immigrant surge in French politics, but it settles the presidency in reliably liberal democratic hands for the next five years.
The potential problem lies in the National Assembly, which is scheduled for elections in June. Macron lacks a well-established political party, so he may have trouble gaining the same kind of dominant legislative power French presidents have usually wielded. Le Pen may do much better in legislative elections, as her party is well-established and her support is spread through much of the country.
That said, this is the second European election that has repudiated Trump-like nationalists, aka white supremacists. The first was in the Netherlands, where racist Geert Wilders did less well than expected. The next will be in September in Germany, where Chancellor Merkel also did well in a regional election yesterday. In any event, both she and her principal opponent, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, are reliable anti-nationalists.
What does this mean for the US? We seem far less able to reject the nationalist upsurge than Europe, where only Britain has fallen victim by approving exit from the EU. But there is no doubt President Trump and his minions have been hoping for nationalist fellow travelers in Europe, where he might even hope they would break up the Union, which he loathes. Their disappointment will be felt all the more deeply because Barack Obama endorsed Macron while Trump all but endorsed Le Pen.
Trump’s last European hope now is likely Italy, where elections are due before May 2018 and may be held early. There populist comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement has been gaining ground. The Italians, remember, invented the businessman/populist/nationalist more than 20 years ago, when Silvio Berlusconi first came on the political scene. He is blessedly discredited, but Grillo is no better.
Trump, who endorsed Le Pen, now has more important things to worry about. He won the vote in the House last week to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the health insurance law that has greatly expanded coverage for Americans, especially (the irony!) Trump voters in key states. Trump is trying hard to crash Obamacare by trashing the state-level marketplaces in which people can sign up for health insurance. He figures then the Democrats in the Senate will have to cooperate with some modified version of “repeal and replace” that would then have to be sent back to the House for final approval.
Trump is also planning his first foreign travel as president this month: Saudi Arabia, Israel/Palestine, Rome for the Pope as well as the Italian government, then Brussels for meetings with the EU, NATO and the Belgian government, and Taormina (Sicily) for the G7 summit.
The Saudis are no doubt looking forward to a meeting with a president who won’t harass them about human rights and is hostile to Iran, the Israelis and Palestinians are still waiting to see if the administration has any serious ideas about their peace process, the EU and NATO will hope the visit marks the end of the president’s skepticism about their institutions, and the G7 will be thankful their club has survived the rise of China and the death of the G8 (which included Russia).
Trump’s past foreign trips have been notable for serious gaffes as well as aggressive pursuit of his business interests. I’d bet we’ll see more of the same on this one. But they serve another purpose: they’ll help us all forget that he has been unsuccessful so far in dunning North Korea into submission and hasn’t made any progress on renegotiating NAFTA or blocking people from his selected Muslim countries from entering the US.
A Le Pen win would have made Trump’s upcoming travel a triumphal march through a Europe on the ropes. At least, phew!, that is not going to happen.