"When I started my job in Chicago 18 months ago, I was expected to say, 'France is back. We have Superman in charge. He has super powers and he is going to change everything.' That’s not true. First, because Superman was born in Kansas, not in France. But also because we are aware of the limits of what France can achieve."
When Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France on the heels of Donald Trump's election in the United States and Brexit's victory in the UK, this Superman stance was a popular one — but it was particularly relevant to the experience of Guillaume Lacroix, the consul general of France to Chicago and a recent visitor to campus.
On Thursday, February 7, Lacroix gave a lecture in Jenkins Nanovic Halls entitled "The Macron Government, France and Europe in Light of the Yellow Vest Protests" as part of the Nanovic Institute's Conversations with Diplomats series. He gave a brief primer on the so-called gilet jaune movement and the political climate surrounding it before opening up to questions from the standing-room-only crowd.
The quote featured here alludes to one of the major themes of the conversation: The idea that a united Europe (despite yellow-vest protesters' arguments to the contrary) helps France and its member countries far more than it harms. Lacroix acknowledged that pro-Europe politics may be a hard sell for some protesters, but that finding common ground is crucial to moving forward, saying that “I cannot say I am a gilet jaune, but les gilets jaunes are us” — namely, Frenchmen, just like Macron and his ministers.
In speaking of his Superman-adjacent boss, the consul general also drew laughs from the crowd with a comparison to South Bend mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg. Before the 2017 election, he said, Macron was a promising young star expected to be a contender in the next presidential election, not the current one — yet he ended up winning. Who's to say Mayor Pete won't beat those same odds?
Sarah Cahalan is an associate editor of this magazine.