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French Voters Must Heed the Lessons of Donald Trump and Reject Marine Le Pen
The similarities between Trump and Le Pen are striking—but France still has a chance to avoid the mistake made in America.
Electing a centrist candidate will prove far better for the future of the Left, and much less destructive to the lives of the French people—particularly minorities—than a far-right alternative to the political mainstream.
On Sunday, French voters will head to the polls for the second round of the country’s presidential election. And just as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is attacking progressive gains at home and setting a course for reckless military adventures aboard, France is facing its own threat from the nationalist hard Right in the form of Front National (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen.
There are stark differences between Trump and Le Pen—including the FN's historic institutional ties to French fascism—but their similarities are striking. And their records suggest that a Le Pen victory could bring many of Trump's most illiberal policies to a country that still claims to uphold its revolutionary values of “liberty, equality and fraternity.”
Trump began his campaign for president attacking immigrants as criminals and rapists, while claiming the country doesn’t “win anymore” in domestic and international affairs. His “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, along with references to reestablishing “law and order,” helped solidify his appeal to a racially resentful nationalism.
Like Trump, Le Pen has anchored her campaign around a nationalism that is meant to pit the white majority against marginalized minority populations.
Le Pen's program calls for a moratorium on legal immigration while deporting “illegal” migrants, along with policies of cultural protectionism. She is calling for an end to teaching migrant populations their maternal languages. And while she claims that a “secularized” Islam is compatible with France, Le Pen’s insistence that the country hold on to its “Christian roots” suggests that her vision is one of a traditional, Christian France.
Trump campaigned on explicitly anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric and policies, and as president, he has attempted to follow through on many of these promises, exemplified by his executive order banning residents of Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States (an order currently blocked by U.S. courts).
Similarly, Le Pen's stated anti-migrant policies, along with her suggestions of a clash of cultures and accusations that “interlopers from all over the world” want to “transform France into a giant squat,” should be taken very seriously. As president, Le Pen would be constrained by the National Assembly, but the French system gives the president tremendous power to sidestep parliament when they deem it necessary. We should expect Le Pen to do everything in her powers to close France off from Europe as quickly and as completely as possible.
In the midst of a global migrant crisis, Le Pen holds official positions of leaving the Schengen zone and reestablishing hard borders, ending automatic French nationality through birth and marriage, and doing away with double nationality for non-Europeans.
A “France for the French,” to use an old favorite FN slogan, would be a France that excludes those fleeing the global crises of violence and poverty.
“Law and order”
Trump was elected after claiming to be the “law and order” candidate, promising to step up law enforcement at a time the United States already has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Le Pen has been even more explicit about what she intends to do to address crime. As her program states, she wants to “apply zero tolerance and finish with judicial laxity,” meaning restoring automatic sentencing, building jails to house 40,000 new inmates and reestablishing the automatic deportation of foreign criminals.
While Trump and Le Pen both look to unleash the brutality of the state apparatus upon their country’s most marginalized populations, they are also powerful enablers for extralegal violence from the racist, extreme Right to which they often pander.
During Trump’s first month in office, over 1,000 bias-related incidents were reported, ranging from verbal intimidation and threatening phone calls to the burning of mosques and the desecration of graves in Jewish cemeteries, indicating that his election has emboldened white supremacists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites.
There is reason to worry that Le Pen's election will bring much of the same extralegal violence in France, both for historical reasons—considering both the rise in racist violence following the Brexit vote as well as the presence of neo-fascist currents in the FN into the 1970s—but also because of the presence of the FN's very real private security arm, the Department for Protection and Security (DPS). Organized in quasi-military fashion, the DPS has frequently attempted to take the role of police at FN events, and has been accused by Reporters Without Borders of keeping records on, and physically attacking, journalists that cover FN events.
A chance to say no
While Trump will likely be president for the next four years, the French still have the time to reject Le Pen.
The contest in France is now curiously reminiscent of the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And what was true in that election remains true in France today: electing a centrist candidate will prove far better for the future of the Left, and much less destructive to the lives of the French people—particularly minorities—than a far-right alternative to the political mainstream.
There will be plenty to mobilize against under Macron, to the extent that he pushes forward the neoliberal measures he has proposed. But his commitment to a pluralist France will protect the Muslim, immigrant and nonwhite populations to whom Le Pen will pose an immediate danger.
In 2002, France inaugurated a tradition of rallying to stop the far Right, regardless of partisan affiliation, when voters of all stripes turned out to deny the presidency to Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Here's to hoping this Sunday carries forward this proud tradition.
Several points in this piece were developed by the French elections working group of Our Revolution France.
Tom Ladendorf is an American writer and musician who lives in Cologne, Germany, and a former In These Times editorial intern.