The Limits of Cynicism

People who follow French politics are talking about the upcoming run-off between Macron and Le Pen as a possible replay of 1981. In that election, François Mitterrand scored a stunning upset of incumbent president, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, to become the first socialist to win since the Second World War. Mitterrand ushered in a new era of French politics that prevails to this day. It is a cynical, divide and conquer politics that serves a narrow elite at the expense of the nation.

Like Americans, the French have been facing the problem that elections seem to have no bearing on public policy. They vote in new people and new parties, but the polices never seem to change. Macron has not been much different from Hollande, who was not much different from Sarkozy. In fact, each French president since Mitterrand has followed a predictable internationalist course. As a result, France has been swamped by immigrants and looted by international finance.

It is a good reminder that elections in a democracy have consequences, but rarely in the way people expect. Mitterrand’s upset victory ushered in a new brand of politics that every ambitious French pol seeks to emulate. Something similar happened in the United States in the 1992 presidential election. Bill Clinton represented a new generation of political leadership. He ushered in a new form of politics that infected both parties and the political mechanism upon which they rely.

Like in France, American politics is deeply cynical now. Elections are viewed with disdain by the politicians. It is something they must endure so they can get on with what they view as the important parts of politics. The important part of politics is advancing an agenda that serves the narrow interests of the managerial elite. This is why elections have no bearing on public policy. The office holders may change and the parties may swap positions, but the elites never change.

That is the source of the growing hostility the political classes of the West have for the people they theoretically represent. Macron is a prime example. He is in trouble politically because he carries himself like a man who is doing the French people a favor by paying attention to them. Not long ago he said that you are not French if you do not follow his rules with regards to Covid. He joked about using the administrative state to torment those who question his policies.

There is that cynicism at the heart of politics in the modern West. No serious leader thinks such things, much less says them out loud, if he has any regard for the people he claims to lead. More important, no serious leader acts this way if he thinks the opinions of the voters matter. When the game is rigged, or at least seems that it is rigged, then it no longer makes much sense to pretend public opinion matters. This is the truth of the cynical politics of the modern West.

In America, this is most evident in the concept of messaging. In modern American political jargon, messaging is a form of crowd control. The crowd is the mass media, which takes its cues from the inner party. The e-mails go out, the spokesmen give pressers and this is what shapes the daily narrative in the press. This is then supposed to herd the public in the direction of the official policy. Good polls confirm to the political class that their messaging is working.

An example is from the chief messenger, Jen Psaki. Note that she struggles to read the catch phrase of the day. It turns out that saying “Putin price hike” out loud sounds rather silly and childish, even to someone without a soul. The expectation is the official media organs will use the phrase while reporting on the inflation numbers and the general narrative will be that the cause of inflation is Putin. The Democrats probably plan to campaign on the slogan “Putin price hike” this fall.

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