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Has Populism Peaked?

With the election of the socially liberal and pro-European Emmanuel Macron as France's next president, many are claiming that the wave of right-wing populism sweeping the West has crested. But Macron faces formidable challenges in delivering on his promise for change.

LONDON – After last year, when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and the United States elected Donald Trump as president, xenophobic nationalism was beginning to seem irresistible. Yet France has now become the biggest power to buck the trend, electing as its president the socially liberal, pro-immigration, and pro-Europe Emmanuel Macron. Has the wave of right-wing populism in the West really crested, as some are claiming?

Macron’s remarkable victory certainly merits celebration. An independent centrist standing in his first election, Macron saw off the established parties’ candidates in the first round two weeks ago and won nearly two-thirds of the vote in the runoff against the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen. As the only leading candidate to take a firm line against Russian President Vladimir Putin, he faced a last-minute leak of hacked (and fake) emails and other attempts to smear him.

Macron achieved all of this by offering a message of hope to an angry and depressed country. He presented himself as a dynamic outsider capable of bringing change to a gridlocked political system. His youth – he is just 39 years old – reinforces the image of renewal. As with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, good looks and easy charm also help.