PARIS — In a recent meeting with a handful of foreign correspondents, President Emmanuel Macron of France philosophized for 100 minutes on the record, without notes. He dotted his conversation with Americanisms — “game-changer,” “honest brokers” — that must have had de Gaulle turning in his grave. He dissected French “universalism.” He mused on colonial history. He identified hatred, turbocharged by social media, as “a threat to democracy itself.”
The performance was typical of Mr. Macron, and unusual for any head of state, the equivalent of tightrope walking without a net. Yet, the many words revealed little of the man himself. Four years into an often tumultuous term, facing an election next year, Mr. Macron remains an enigma to even his own country.
Backed by the left in 2017, Mr. Macron now has more support on the right. Once a free-market reformer, he now extols the role of the state and protection “at any cost” in the age of Covid-19. Once the leader of a freewheeling movement that swept away old political hierarchies, he now sits comfortably at the pinnacle of power, his authority accentuated by terrorism and pandemic.
“With Macron we have gone to the limit of presidential domination in the Fifth Republic,” said Alain Duhamel, a political commentator.
Islamist separatism,” which Mr. Macron believes undergirds recurrent domestic terrorism.
At a time when identity politics and the anger of some marginalized Muslim immigrants have raised questions about France’s ability to embrace the diversity of its society, Mr. Macron wants to preserve and broaden a French universalism much criticized for disguising forms of exclusion, particularly for Muslims.
“Our universalism is not in my view a doctrine of assimilation,” he told the foreign correspondents. “It is not the negation of differences. I believe in pluralism within our universalism.”