Barbarian vs incumbents
What Emmanuel Macron did when he seized power is plain and simple “disruption”. He is the barbarian attacking the system, a system that he blindsided for one main reason: it was far from adequately reflecting the reality of the country. It had become self referential, cut from the realities of the ground, trapped in a logic that was often defying common sense, in the hands of a small elite that did not have the common interest in mind.
Low expectations are a blessing
The pre and post election talk was about how Macron won’t be able to succeed. This is typical of the incumbents who look at a new startup and think “they can’t possibly displace us”. What this reasoning forgets it that the world changes: with each passing day France has more digital natives and less unionised workers who will go on strike at the first occasion. This also forgets that Macron will succeed precisely because he does not work in the “classical” way. People who see him do things the new way think “it won’t work”. What they don’t realise is that doing things differently is the only way for it to work.
It’s also much easier to succeed when everybody expects you to fail, because doing even just a little will be a positive surprise. High expectations are much harder to meet, and Macron is lucky to be faced with voters who mostly think he can’t do much anyway.
Macron doesn’t make sense until you look at him through the right lens
People still look at Macron through the wrong framework. Journalists will say “in his government he has x people from the left, x people from the right, x people from the center”, and conclude “it is not a coherent government, it has no direction.” But this assumes that putting people on the old left/right spectrum still makes sense, which I don’t think is true.
Why not look at the government through another angle, for example an “adequacy index” that would be made of indicators like gender (population is 50/50 male female, why should the government be anything else than that?), age (government should reflect the age pyramid), political orientation (government should reflect all the political forces as they exist in the country), skills (a doctor for health, a mother for women, etc). This “coefficient of adequacy” would be a much more precise measure of a government’s capacity to represent the people.
Left and right don’t make much sense anymore. I’m a humanist capitalist: I believe — and I’ve seen hundreds of examples of it — that business and humans can co-exist productively. So what am I according to the old system?
Also when I look at the extremes - both left and right - programs are similar in several ways: nationalism, refusal of “the system”, etc. When the people who are supposed to be on opposite ends of a spectrum are showing a lot of similarities, doesn’t that tell us that the spectrum itself fails at representing the reality?
What’s weird is not what Macron is doing.
What’s weird — and inaccurate — is for people to look at him wearing 20th century left/right glasses.
Other examples of such bias: the 35 hours work week is still a raging debate while nobody really works 35h.
People still think that farmers and manual workers are major components of France’s population, while between 1968 and 2006 farmers went from 10% to 1% of the total workforce, manual workers from 37% to 22%.
During the 2008 US campaign, someone was reminding one of the candidates running for presidency that there are now more World of Warcraft players than farmers, yet politicians still think according to the latter, not the former.
We have an outdated mental model for politics, both in terms of representing the various currents and in terms of how we classify the different components of the population.
Macron is a threat to the consensus, and the consensus will fight back
The whole French media system is based on politicians being dishonest and incompetent, so Macron is a big problem. So far he has not made any mistake, and seems to be in control far beyond what we all could expect and imagine (see the press conference with Putin or the handshake with Trump for illustrations of that point). The narrative will have to evolve, and the attention will have to shift to other topics.
A show like “Le Petit Journal” (the French “Daily Show”) was born during the Sarkozy years, when he was an hyper active president who would move fast and break things, leaving a lot of room for satyre and critic. When Hollande was elected, you could feel that those shows were worried, as Hollande sold himself as a “normal”, non spectacular president. Fortunately (for the media) he couldn’t deliver on that, and made enough mistakes to become a punching ball.
Macron doesn’t seem headed that way, he’s doing good so far and it’s hard to make a living off his mistakes to this point. As Clay Shirky once observed, “organisations will do everything to maintain the problem to which they are the solutions”. Honest and hard working politicians deeply challenge the organisations making a living off the “show” of politics, starting with the media and unions.
The impact of leaders is (also) in the tone they set
When Trump was elected, a lot of people said “he’s only the president, there is so much he can do”. Beside the technicalities of what a president can and can’t do, there is the symbol and the example a leader sets. Trump is releasing all the negative energies in America. He is empowering and normalizing racist, sexist and unethical behaviours.
Macron is doing the opposite, and releases a lot of positive energy and goodwill. In France a lot of citizen were in “me first” mode as the system didn’t deserve much trust and investment anyway. Why pay your taxes when you never see them at work?
Macron is suddenly making the system credible and worth people’s time, so millions of citizen — among them many entrepreneurs — will suddenly get involved with the system again. This is what you see with someone like Bruno Bonnell (a famous French entrepreneur) who had never gotten involved with politics until recently.
Macron will surprise us because a lot of people who never voted nor contributed to the political system will stop sitting on the sideline and get involved. That might lead to a few surprises in terms of elections’ results.
Disruption doesn’t have to be bad and unpleasant
Some voted for Trump as they “wanted change” and seeked to create “an electroshock”. Somehow shocks are always associated with negative change. Lepen, Trump, Brexit, shocking the system can seemingly only happen through making things worse, just as if peace could only be reached through war. Macron proves that you can also create a shock via a positive movement. Disruption is associated with radical and fast change, but nobody said that change had to be for the worse.
The trend is just starting
Macron is following a couple of younger politicians getting to the top unexpectedly. It started with Tsipras in Greece, Trudeau in Canada, and now Macron in France. This is the beginning of a trend, and more and more “Gen Xers” will grab power in the coming years. Such is the law of nature. Boomers are at the end of their run, this is the weak signal of the generational change that is unavoidable. One short term consequence will be that the digital literacy of governments is going to grow dramatically in the coming years.
People who will blindly copy Macron will likely fail
For a simple reason: each context is different, and a certain number of factors that are unlikely to happen again need to align for that exact strategy to work again. This is the “Uber for X” problem. Uber worked for taxis for specific reasons, but it’s a model that can’t be applied to everything. Politicians need to draw inspiration from Macron, but not copy his strategy one for one. Lepen failed at copy pasting Trump’s strategy as she didn’t realize the French were much more educated and aware of the downside of populism after brexit and the American election. Hillary failed because she tried to copy Obama’s strategy without modernizing it enough for the realities of 2016. Copying is a bad idea in a fast changing world, yet one should always draw inspiration and lessons from what has been done before.