Emmanuel Macron’s trip to power may appear bizarre and distinct – and it doubtlessly is – but there was a predictable, common factor that made it easier for him to claim the presidency.
Candidates routinely rally voters by promising ambitious moves in the future. Hope is an effective vote-getter. However, an even more effective vote-getter is not a reference to the future, but a reference to the past. From Reagan to Macron, politicians have returned to the past in order to generate nostalgia or take down their opponent.
Macron: Distinct journey?
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron has had a turbulent, unconventional political journey. Prior to Sunday’s victory, he had never been democratically elected to a government position; he had a very public affair with his teacher-turned-wife; he is a mere 39-years-old; he is a centrist with his own party.
Emmanuel Macron’s trip to power may appear bizarre and distinct – and it doubtlessly is – but there was a predictable, common factor that made it easier for him to claim the presidency. That factor? The past.
How a party’s past shapes its present predicament
The National Front, led by Marine Le-Pen, has a number of skeletons in its closet. The most devastating artifact is the National Front’s connection to Nazi-sympathizer, Marshall Petain.
Beginning in 1941, Hitler and the Nazis took control of France. A collaborationist government was founded, based out of Vichy, France. Its leader was Marshall Petain. For four years, the Petain regime maintained control over much of France, collaborating with and aided by Hitler and the Nazis.
The National Front’s origins can be traced back to the Vichy regime and feature a history chalk-full of anti-Semitism and fascism. Le-Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, founded the party in 1972 along with “Vichy nostalgists, skinheads, and ultra-right Catholic reactionaries,” and is a noted Holocaust denier.
The regime and its subsequent splinter parties cast a dark shadow on the country. France is a country known for its liberal, democratic values. Le-Pen and her colleagues tried desperately to rid the party of its dark past, labeling the effort “un-demonization.”
French voters were extremely hesitant to elect a government with ties to Petain and extremism. In a podcast with The New York Times, various French ballot-casters stated that the party’s far-right ties were among their chief concerns. To avoid tacitly condoning the country’s past, voters elected Macron, the safe, connotation-free bet.
Patriotic nostalgia and national shame
Politicians have utilized the past to their advantage for decades. Ronald Reagan’s ‘City on a Hill’ spiel functioned to generate patriotism, pride nostalgia. The phrase comes from Matthew 5:14 when Jesus tells his followers: “”You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
John Winthrop, a New World preacher, relayed that very verse to the first settlers of Massachusetts in 1630. Featuring the trifecta of American history, patriotism, and Christianity, it is no wonder that everyone from Ted Cruz to John F. Kennedy have resorted to this now-iconic rhetoric.
Patriotic nostalgia and national shame are different sides of the same coin. Both showcase the immense power of the past in shaping contemporary developments.