PARIS — The veteran journalists did not wear ties and they did not address him as “Mr. President”: two outrageous insults in a television interview this week that served to underscore a new chapter in Emmanuel Macron’s mercurial presidency, one defined by popular anger.
The total lack of deference and a barrage of hostile questions in the interview on Sunday evening have reverberated for days in France and come on top of a coolly savage portrayal of Mr. Macron in a new book of memoirs by his predecessor François Hollande.
What both Mr. Hollande’s book and the television interview had in common was not only the substance of their attacks — that Mr. Macron is a self-seeking servant of society’s fortunate — but also their underlying message: It is open season on the French president.
The undisguised hostility has made clear that, less than a year into this new presidency, anti-Macron sentiment is emerging as a potent force. It is being fueled by a pervasive sense that Mr. Macron is pushing too far, too fast in too many areas — nicking at the benefits of pensioners and low earners, giving dollops to the well-off and slashing sacred worker privileges.
The souring of the public mood is reflected in Mr. Macron’s drooping poll numbers among workers and the middle class. (His popularity remains high among those that the French call “executives.”) It is also seen in the streets, where a wave of strikes and demonstrations is testing Mr. Macron’s resolve as never before.
“In every area, there is discontent,” admonished one of Mr. Macron’s interviewers on Sunday, Edwy Plenel, a political journalist with the investigative news website Mediapart. The president could barely conceal his anger.
“Your question is biased!” Mr. Macron retorted. “The discontent of the railway workers has nothing to do with the discontent in the hospitals!”
The result for now is a strike that has crippled France’s vaunted rail service, shut down many of its universities and put hostile demonstrators in the streets as they try to push back against Mr. Macron’s effort to reshape the country’s work force culture.
The television interview was less a conversation than a controlled ambush. For more than two hours, Mr. Macron was admonished, lectured at, cut off and shouted over. And he gave nearly as good as he got. Still, never before has a French president been so rudely manhandled.
“France has passed a threshold with this debate,” the political consultant Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet said on television afterward.
“So, you are searching for cash in the wallets of the retirees! Excuse me, Emmanuel Macron!” the other television interviewer, Jean-Jacques Bourdin, nearly shouted at the president.
In the interview, it was plain “Emmanuel Macron” — as in Citizen Macron in the style of the French Revolution — from start to finish.
“I have got to put the country back to work,” Mr. Macron was left blustering. “There are too many who work hard, and don’t earn enough from their work.”
“You are not the teacher and we are not the students!” Mr. Plenel said in reprimand to Mr. Macron, using a phrase that has a long pedigree in French political debates.
“I’m not aggravated, but I don’t like intellectual dishonesty!” Mr. Macron insisted through gritted teeth.
The far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who makes no secret of his disdain for Mr. Macron, seized upon Sunday’s televised “wrestling match,” as one commentator called it.
“Jupiter has fallen from the sky!” he declared, invoking the king of the gods, a name the French news media have pinned on Mr. Macron for gathering up extraordinary powerfor example by using his legislative supermajority to carry out his agenda almost unchecked.
If he has not quite fallen, at the very least there is a growing sense that Mr. Macron and the French presidency are no longer “sacred,” as a headline on Mr. Plenel’s news website Mediapart put it.
To be sure, Mr. Macron, once he had rebalanced himself, periodically launched his habitual command performance, speaking fluently and without notes on Syria, labor, taxes and other subjects for more than two hours.
Yet the image remaining is that of an aggravated French president, his voice fairly choking, having to remind his interlocutors, “You are the interviewers, and I am the president of the Republic!”
“I am not about sanctifying the function of the presidency,” Mr. Plenel said on television afterward.
“There is a monarchical culture in France,” Mr. Plenel, who was once editor in chief of Le Monde, said in an interview on Tuesday, explaining his strategy Sunday. “It was necessary to break the code of this monarchical culture.”
Likewise, in his book “The Lessons of Power,” Mr. Hollande draws a portrait in acid of his ambitious successor. While Mr. Hollande was considered by many the “normal” chief executive, Mr. Macron set out to be his opposite.
This was not the stuff of Olympian maneuvering but rather of base human machinations, in Mr. Hollande’s view.
Did the young Minister of the Economy who had been Mr. Hollande’s protégé stab the older man in the back, then leap over his carcass to gain the presidency? Did he betray the seasoned politician to whom he owed so much? Those central questions have been a subtext in French politics since Mr. Macron was elected a year ago. Mr. Hollande all but answers yes.
“Always, that style of denying the plain evidence with a smile,” Mr. Hollande comments with barely disguised bitterness after Mr. Macron has denied he will be a candidate. That denial followed the triumphalist kickoff rally in July 2016 at which his supporters shouted “Macron, President!” almost for the first time.
“In front of me, Emmanuel Macron protested his good faith, and his faithfulness,” Mr. Hollande writes, describing a moment when he was forced to upbraid his protégé for having displayed his ambition. “Was he sincere when he thought that his adventure was limited in time, and that it would eventually end, to serve, finally, my own candidacy?”
The ex-president doesn’t answer the question, but he hardly needs to.
“Did he feel guilty about something?” Mr. Hollande asks about the moment he handed over power to Mr. Macron a year ago at the Élysée Palace. “As though the order of things, and of human relations, had been unduly reversed.”
And Mr. Hollande wickedly sums up both the limits and potential of Mr. Macron’s outlook, gleaned when the younger man was his counselor at the presidency.
“He is certain that reality graciously bends to his will as soon as he expresses it.”
The ex-president adopts the critique of Mr. Macron’s detractors on the left when he writes in his book that “my government reduced inequality, while this one is deepening it.”
If the numbers show Mr. Hollande giving himself too easy a pass on his own record in that regard, the jury is still out on Mr. Macron’s.
Certainly he appeared to do himself few favors on Sunday when he repeatedly refused to condemn the well-established practice by the very wealthy in France of seeking tax havens.
“We’ve got a problem with fiscal optimization,” Mr. Macron conceded.
That provoked the outrage of Mr. Bourdin: “Tax evasion!” he shouted at the president, using a term more recognizable to the average citizen. Mr. Macron refused to give ground.
“And what about your friend Arnault?” — the question referred to the C.E.O. of LVMH, France’s wealthiest man, Bernard Arnault.
“I don’t have friends,” Mr. Macron said coldly.
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