John F. Phillips
Politics From the Heartland, LLC
I haven’t been writing much lately. With everything that has been going on in the United States, from the continuing pandemic, to the fires in Washington, Oregon, and California, to the continuing political chaos that passes for a presidential campaign, it’s hard not to get caught up in the “doom and gloom” that makes every day feel like Tuesday.
Then comes along President Emmanuel Macron of France! I was looking through last week’s issue of The Economist and saw an article about how Macron is bringing back le Plan (“The Man with le Plan: Emmanuel Macron Revives a Post War Institution for a Post Covid Era”, September 5, 2020) . In modern times, le Plan was first instituted by the French government after World War II to guide the French national recovery from the devastation brought about by the war, an instrument of hope for a battered society.
Given the personal and economic devastation caused by the pandemic, Macron’s le Plan might be considered an effort to accomplish the same goal, to look toward the future in a concrete way and to provide hope to people who have suffered so much because of the pandemic.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Macron’s le Plan is that the planning will not be done within the government, creating another level of the famous French bureaucracy. Instead, the planning will be more visionary in nature and will be done by a commission that isn’t part of the government, but instead reports to the government. In it’s new form, le Plan is designed to provide inspiration and hope for the future, to shift away from short term management of the pandemic to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Whether or not one agrees with Macron or his politics, there is a lesson here. Much of the “doom and gloom” that permeates our culture right now has been created by the feeling that there is no hope for the future, that every day is the same, and that there may never be a return to the life we lived before the pandemic. There seems to be no idea about how we move forward because we are so focused on the short term and getting to the next day.
Macron is trying to change the narrative, to shift the argument from “today” to the “future”, to make the argument that there is hope for the future even as we struggle to manage the pandemic today and tomorrow. He is trying to construct a narrative about what that future can look like. He is offering hope instead of fear. This is called leadership.
Reading about Macron’s efforts to define the future recharged my batteries and lifted me from my funk about “what’s next.”
In the midst of the current American presidential campaign, it might be a great idea for Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden to try to come up with a vision for the post pandemic era. Instead of pointing fingers and wallowing in the muck of negativity, perhaps they could offer an intellectual and philosophical version of le Plan that could offer hope and a vision for the future. I’m not talking about policy ideas, I’m talking about a vision for the future that people can feel hopeful about and rally around.
Boris Johnson could do the same in the UK.
People are beaten down right now. They feel overwhelmed. They are discouraged. They see a political leadership that isn’t willing to confront problems, a leadership that is more concerned about winning elections than they are about moving forward from the pandemic. It’s time to change the narrative and offer people hope and project optimism about the future. That’s what leadership is all about. Are they up to the task, are they willing to change the narrative?