“C’est lui?” exclaimed a dark-haired boy of roughly nine years old from the market stall sidelines as a commotion passed in front of him. Fuzzy microphones on long handheld booms and news cameras poked above the crowd as it tightened to fit the narrowing space between vendors of vegetables and antiques and records and roast chicken.
The man beside him smiled toward the boy as he affirmed that it was indeed the new French prime minister, Gabriel Attal, come to the Sunday market in Caen after President Emmanuel Macron appointed him last Tuesday to replace Elisabeth Borne as head of the French government. In the scant days since his appointment, Attal has been busy selecting ministers to form his government and taking his first trips outside the capital as he begins his new role of determining and implementing the nation’s policies. Scant too is Attal’s age—the 34-year-old is France’s youngest ever prime minister.
I spent a May afternoon rushing through the wide halls of the U.S. Senate office buildings. It wasn’t the first time I was on Capitol Hill this past spring, but this time I chanced being late for an important flight because the clock was ticking on this issue that kept me coming back to the Hill. The next morning, I learned that day’s meetings had seemingly been for naught.
There’s a place in the popular American imagination called Main Street—a Norman Rockwell scene where the butcher, baker, and barber all hang out their signs and sweep their stoops, where emerald baseball fields are immaculately groomed, and where the town gathers on a Friday night to cheer the high school football team to victory. If this vision of the idyllic Main Street America is flawed, it’s because it’s based on a nostalgic vision of the past that rings dissonant when compared to the reality that many Americans face today, especially amidst a global pandemic: a shrinking economy, a housing crisis, outdated infrastructure, and political division.