Over the weekend, the French people shocked tout le monde by not electing an insane woman to be their president, opting instead for a more telegenic centrist who will no doubt do something dumb like pass the French version of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act and blow up both the economy and his historic opportunity. But the election of Emmanuel Macron (not to be confused with macarons or macaroons) is being hailed as a legitimate political re-alignment, and the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis, bless her and keep her, offered up the best version of the joke that was waiting to be told:
As I step off the train in Roquefort, southern France, I sniff the air appreciatively. It’s so good to be out of the Paris bubble, meeting some authentic French people to answer the biggest question in European politics: why did so many people vote for Emmanuel Macron? Was it a lack of economic anxiety, or a lack of racism?
Either way, their concerns deserve to be heard. Some might find them unpalatable, but history has taught us that repressing such views only makes them more virulent. It might not be pleasant to hear them, it might offend our sensibilities, but we have to share our towns and cities with pragmatic centrists, so we must strive to understand them.
Here’s the thing: I will do this.
This is how you become a famous journalist after an election, right? You parachute in, wearing your I-live-in-a-bubble-but-I’m-so-so-sorry-now hairshirt, embed yourself in a new bubble in the name of uncovering the hidden truth that explains the last 50 years of political culture, and then grandly lord it over everybody else. I could do that in France, one Aperol spritz at a time, as far as my corporate credit card will allow. (Which is not far, considering my love for Aperol spritzes.)
Picture the premium content that will be produced, as I skulk all around the arrondisements, from Rue de Vaugirard to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, as well as points distant in the French countryside, armed only with Google Translate and an unquenchable thirst to talk to ordinary people about the ordinary decision they made over the weekend.
“So, you’re telling me that your country has a rich history of resisting obvious bigots?” I’ll ask at the boulangerie in Biarritz. Espying a fashy haircut in Lyon, I’ll ascertain if the individual so coiffed is a disappointed fan of Marine Le Pen, or merely a disappointed fan of Olivier Giroud. “Eh, bien, #WengerOut, ma famille.”
I’ll draw on my knowledge of the French language to settle the questions that have long dogged students of that culture, like, where is the library? Also: How late is it open?
This will be a good use of my company’s money, whether that company is The Huffington Post, or HuffPost, or AOL, or Oath, or Verizon, or Halliburton, I’ve honestly lost track. Are we Facebook, now? Or is our industry just massively dependent on the Facebook platform in ways that will inevitably prove detrimental? There is a beast that needs to be fed, and that beast prefers hype in a white whine reduction sauce.
And that’s what makes this assignment so fearful. What if, in the end, there’s no hype to be found to feed the beast? What if the French populace just shrugged and decided to make do with an imperfect choice that fits within sane parameters? What if they’ve reckoned that while their leaders are imperfect and the problems in their lives difficult to solve, dynamiting the superstructure of civil society is not, in fact, a virtuous response to that situation?
Could it be that real life is not like Twitter, and its minute-by-minute presentation of the world beset on all sides by apocalyptic political factions seeking to deliver the most righteous owns unto each other is not how most people choose to live their lives?
This is a warning: At some point in our future, we may arrive at an era defined mostly by sobriety. For all we know, we may be on the cusp of some new level-headed age right now. What is to become of us, the content providers who disdain uninteresting times, who live and breathe constant conflict and counter-intuition?
It is within the realm of possibility that our future may no longer yield an infinite supply of Hot Takes. Mere Room-Temperature Takes could become the norm. It could be that experts are actually really, really great when compared with the wisdom of crowds. Maybe violent crime is going down. What if, after all those guides to surviving your family at Thanksgiving we published over the years, it turns out that the vast majority of families have really chill Thanksgivings where everyone is just really, really happy to be able to get together?
“Actually, normality is bad,” I’ll write from my perch overlooking the Seine. Now, I just need someone to sign off on my expense reports.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for HuffPost and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.