PARIS — Several decades of weakness and/or blindness have brought France to where it is today. A deeply divided country, where two camps are facing off with an animosity rarely seen in its recent past. An unhappy France vs. a happy France, a France of privilege vs. a France of exclusion, France from on high vs. France down below. No matter what you call it, the reality boils down to the same conclusion: The nation is split in two.
Those who, in the name of their guilty intellectual comfort, wanted to hide this reality were horrified on the night of the first round of elections. The voters who make up the "circle of reason" (as they call it in the upscale Paris neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés), that is, those of Emmanuel Macron and of François Fillon, were counted. They made up 44% of the votes. Those of Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan were also counted, and they, too, made up 44%. A protest vote as worrying as it is historic.
The issue is not to condemn these voters, and even less so to insult them, but rather to give them new reason for hope. In this regard, the remarks made by Macron in Le Figaro last week, "I heard the anger and I will take it into account," are welcome. Even if, clearly, a lot of real action needs to happen.
The first problem that has to be tackled is the endemic unemployment, a great source of extremist voting, as Francois Hollande's five-year term as president has so spectacularly demonstrated.
The extent of the anger means forgetting old certainties.
If he wins on Sunday, Macron will have to break down all the barriers that stand in the way of hiring, which the Left, as it races to turn France into a country with 6.5 million unemployed, calls "social gains."
But the future president will also have to confront the issues of security and immigration, with which Macron, a former investment banker and minister of the economy, is less familiar.
The extent of the anger expressed in the April 23 first round of voting will force him to grab the bull by the horns — and to forget the old certainty of coexistence cultivated nonchalantly at Socialist Party headquarters on Rue de Solferino.
Those close to Macron often describe their leader as particularly intelligent and audacious. Indeed, an abundance of intelligence and audacity he will need.