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France and Your Faithful Correspondent Go Insane
I don’t know how other journalists are even reading the news fast enough to make their deadlines right now. It’s easy enough to criticize the media; I do it all the time; I even do it more than anyone, I reckon. But this week all I can say is that I admire any colleague who managed to do the one thing a journalist has got to do to survive in this business: submit his report before the story’s no longer news.
I’ve been writing two pieces this week, one about last Sunday’s referendum in Turkey, the other about the upcoming election in France. I’ve worked to the point of near-tearful exhaustion on both, but neither are done. Nor, I fear, will either be finished before they’re no longer of use to any editor. So much has happened, so fast, and there is so much to explain, that I just can’t do it quickly enough. Those who can do it will be published; and even if their articles are riddled with errors of fact and interpretation or horrors of English prose, it is only right that theirs will be published and mine will not, because editors do need to fill their pages with something, after all. They can’t wait for writers like me to figure out how to compress my frantic thoughts about the history, the drama, the complexity, the personalities, the sheer weirdness of these epic events into “Five Facts You Need to Know Today” — and I can’t even blame them for it. The chief attribute you need to succeed in journalism is the ability to get 800 readable words on an editor’s desk before the day’s end, every single day, and I don’t have it. When yesterday Theresa May yesterday announced her plan to call a snap call a snap general election, my first thought was that another election was going to do me in — and I didn’t just mean the stress of living through it, I meant the prospect of explaining it.
So all I can say is thank God — and thank you — that I have a book to write, because it means that what I’ve written won’t be wasted. To everyone who’s made this book a possibility, I am truly grateful: The thought that none of what I wrote will be wasted is all that’s keeping me from staggering off the ledge into madness along with everyone else I’m writing about.
And to anyone in a generous mood, please consider contributing, or contributing again: I can say with absolute confidence that the book is being written even as I blow through deadline after deadline; because this book is what I’m really writing, and this book, for sure, will answer all your questions about Turkey’s referendum, the real meaning of France’s election cliffhanger, Britain’s future, and the way these stories unite to form a portrait of the ill-starred continent to which we’re bound, like it or not, its tragic and tangled history, and its uncertain future.
For those of you who can’t wait for the book, however, let me recommend a few articles about what happened in France this week by writers who managed to make their deadlines. All three are surprisingly good, despite not being written by me and despite being finished on time.
In Slate (of all places) Yascha Mounk has written a fine piece called A Primer on the French Elections: Four Candidates, three nightmare scenarios:
For many years, Mélenchon has been about as marginal a political figure as his endorsement of Fiscal Combat might suggest. After breaking with the center-left Parti Socialiste of President François Hollande, he has called for a 100 percent tax on incomes over 400,000 euros (about $426,000) and endorsed dictators such as Hugo Chavez. And yet, the latest polls see Mélenchon in a dead heat with centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative François Fillon, and far-right populist Marine Le Pen. Any two out of those four might come out on top in the first rounds of the upcoming presidential elections.In other words, less than a week before the first round of the election, and less than three weeks before a runoff between the two leading candidates that will determine the next inhabitant of the Élysée Palace, the country’s political future is completely up in the air. France might soon be ruled by a self-described communist, by an untested centrist whose political movement was founded less than a year ago, by a traditional conservative under investigation for blatantly corrupt practices, or by the far-right leader of a party with deep fascist roots.
(And please, I beg you: Before averring the irrelevance of Marine Le Pen’s fascist roots, please, at least, wait for my book, or for the article that, God willing, I’ll finish in time to explain this, and to explain why they should frighten us. I spent most of the week writing about her and her lunatic family and about how criminally reckless it would be to dismiss the words “fascist roots,” words so overused that they have even perhaps come to sound anodyne to American ears. But at the very least, watch this. That is what is meant by “fascist roots,” and those are the roots from which her rotten branch grows — as last week she clearly reminded us.)
In The Daily Beast, Christopher Dickey gets right to the point with a piece called The Insane French Elections That Could [Redacted] Us All. It isn’t just vulgar sensationalism, I’m afraid.
Less than three weeks from now, in the final round of the presidential elections, the only choice left to the voters of France could well be between Le Pen, a crypto-fascist, or Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a charismatic communist, both of whom are strongly anti-EU and anti-NATO.
Victory for either one would mean an end to the political, diplomatic, and economic order that has protected the United States as well as Europe for the last 70 years, preventing the kinds of cataclysms—World Wars I and II—that cost millions of lives in the first half of the 20th century while containing first Soviet and now Russian adventurism.
There are other possibilities, but as the French prepare to go to the polls (or flee them) this Sunday, April 23, the possible outcomes are a total crapshoot. The four top candidates in a field of 11 are in a virtual dead heat; the differences between their scores is within the acknowledged margins of error by the pollsters. The top two finishers will vie against each other in a run-off on May 7. And the reason something like panic has set in among many French, from the heights of the political establishment to conversation over espressos at the counters in working-class cafés, is that the candidate with the most solid base is Le Pen, while the one with the most momentum is the far-left Mélenchon.
As for Mélenchon’s astonishing sudden rise, my friend Arun has done an outstanding job of explaining this terrible turn of events, to the extent they can be explained:
… When I saw these numbers, my jaw dropped. This is, objectively speaking, insane. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is not exactly a newcomer on the French political scene. He’s been around for a while and anyone with a merely passing interest in politics knows him and his trash-talking gauchiste persona. So WTF is going on here? This cannot be just his performance in the March 20th and April 4th multi-candidate debates. Ça ne peut pas suffire. The fact of the matter is, JLM has tapped into something profound in the id of a sizable part of the French electorate—both left and right—which I personally do not relate to but that is there. On this, I received an email a week ago from a faithful AWAV reader in Marseille—who is French, secular Jewish, a retired advertising executive, on the moderate left but no gauchiste—after JLM’s rally in the city. What he wrote is interesting and instructive, as his sentiments are no doubt shared by many:
Il y a la politique et puis il y a la politique.
I gave up on joining the crowd sur le Vieux Port, because it was already past 2 pm and I wanted to hear Meluche [Mélenchon’s nickname-ed.] in good conditions, so I stayed home and watched him on TV… The magic worked, I had to admire the man and the talent.
He brought tears in my eyes. I didn’t agree on all of what he said, but I agreed on his choice of words, the value and the weight of the words, the tone, the gravity, the music, the emotional content.
It is part of my French heritage. It speaks to my roots. This is what France is all about. Something lyrical, fierce, generous and noble as is the Marseillaise.
Read the whole thing.
France, in short, has gone insane, and anything could happen.
Now I’ll go back to work in the hope of finishing both of my own articles before events overtake them. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll share a few of my thoughts about what just happened in Turkey. These are not trivial developments, and it is hard for me to feel that I’m not trivializing them by compressing my responses to them. But in the end, saying nothing at all would be worse. So I’ll do my best.Published in General
Claire, there is an argument that Marine le Pen would be good for the interests of right-of-center American populists (if not necessarily for France). The idea goes that having another large, powerful populist country, would make things easier for President Trump here at home.
Of course this hinges on the ability of populist countries to work together in opposition to other geopolitical factions. I’m curious if you think this is possible. I really like the idea of a global alliance of populist countries, each dedicated to pursuing their own interest while cooperating on key issues, but then again, I like unicorns too, and I have this sinking feeling that the latter is more likely to appear before me then the former.
Leaving the European Union would be the optimal outcome for France and Europe.
Many of Le Pen’s positions on immigration don’t sound that different from Bernie Sanders’ c. 2007. Or her domestic policies for that matter.
Is trying to use the old Procrustean “Left” and “Right” sides of the political bed still helpful?
Speaking of Bernie:
Mmmmkay. And his campaign manager said a year ago that Bernie is “a Democrat for life.” For certain definitions of “for life,” I guess.
Of course, social justice warriors always lie.
It looks as though France may realize that soon.
Is Arun’s retired Jewish friend in Marseille someone who remembers ’68 with nostalgia? If so, his attraction for Mélenchon and France’s version of Chavismo isn’t too surprising. Stupid, but not surprising.
At least France, with its much more resilient economy may be more likely to survive Mélenchon if he wins than Venezuela has been able to survive Chávez and now Maduro. Or so we can hope at this point.
Feeling your pain, @claire. I have a piece on North Korea due this week that I’ve rewritten FOUR times since the weekend. It’s to the point that I cringe when I look at the news in the morning.
I see now I’m going to have to cut out my paragraphs on the aircraft carrier – that turned out that wasn’t actually there, despite what the administration was saying.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight had some interesting comments in the last 48 hours throwing shade on French polling on this election, if you didn’t see them. This will be the first French election that I will follow closely. At what point in election night will we have an idea what will happen (with some countries, you know as soon as the exits come out, others not until the next day)?
How can Le Pen be both a socialist and a crypto-facsist?
I think the other guy’s the socialist, Marine’s just a fascist.
So she is “far right”, because fascism is on the right, correct?
So it is a race between far left and far right, or really far right and far left?
I get really confused with the term “fascist”. Can someone help me out?
By the way, calling the voters “insane” is old hat. Basically, the voters decide they are tired if the same old same old, and therefore are “insane”. We have a generation of leaders ignoring the will of the people in Europe, and then acting surprised when the revolution comes.
Read Jonah Goldberg.
Le Pen is a national socialist.
Melenchon is an international socialist.
Just like in our recent election the mainstream parties are completely out of touch with the voters. Hence a desperate electorate is making desperate choices.
It’s not that difficult. The elites are a group of corrupt, inept, interconnected group of thugs. They will be replaced by another group of corrupt, inept, interconnected group of thugs. That’s what liberal democracy is boiling down to.
This is what happens when the sane people run out of ideas. And, as the great philosopher Hunter S. Thompson presciently wrote:
Until its conservators and beneficiaries admit the status quo doesn’t work and that we need to make big, dramatic changes, the fringe nutballs who have always marketed “change” will continue to rise.
But! Fascist means “on the right”! That is what my betters have always told me. Just because NAZI has “socialist” in the name did not mean they were really socialists.
See, Trump is on the right, and therefore he is a “fascist”. Clinton was on the left and therefore a “socialist” . That is what the Left has always said, anyway.
Agreed that this is probably a consequence of voters being ignored on key issues. On the one hand, you have voters like that old hippie going on gut feelings. On the other hand, you have voters who are fine handing the reins to a madman if he just does the one thing that the usual politicians won’t do.
What Americans need to know now @claire is how powerful a French president can be. How strong are the checks and balances? A madman under restraints isn’t necessarily a great threat, especially if he happens to be sane on a few issues and can be focused on those.
My vague impression of European politics is that Europeans run through constitutions like tissue paper. So it would be nice to learn that a French leader can’t upend the system by force of personality.
It’s like the Moral Majority?
I’d say that the use of the word “fascist” has killed any meaning other than “I think this person should not be allowed to speak or have power”. Any other meaning is lost.
And yes, I know fascism is on the left. I was making fun of elites. I am sorry if the sarcasm was lost on some people.
Here is the best video I’ve ever seen on the subject. No high school student should be allowed to graduate without passing an exam exhibiting a thorough understanding of its content. PS: It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I would’ve passed such a test!
Isn’t @robertzubrin the resident expert on that?
“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
This paragraph has plenty of demagoguery without useful facts. This really shows French roots rather than fascist. Arguing over how much Germany controlled Vichy France is kind of silly at this point, but it’s not an endorsement of fascism. If anything, it’s the opposite. Trying to lay blame on someone else starts with the agreed assumption that the action in question was wrong. If you want to claim she’s influenced by fascist roots you should find her saying it was good policy rather than blaming the Germans. Does she actually advocate for fascist policies?
Turkey and at the end France explained far more cogently than Claire ever could/would.
Something to keep in mind- the more populous and more diverse a country is, the easier it is to poll accurately, as errors tend to cancel each other rather than compound. Less populous, geographically compact, ethnically homogenous, economically homogenous countries tend to be harder to poll, as there are less errors to counteract each other. Trump polls were off ~2-3%, which is about average for US Presidential elections. The Brexit polls were off by about double that, which is about average for UK elections. France has about the same population (66 mil vs 64 mil) as the UK.
Bottom line: with this many French undecided (I’ve seen ~31% undecided in some polls), we have no idea what’s gonna happen in 2 weeks. Especially since the polls seem to be herding, and there are 4 viable candidates for 2 spots.
Whatever the best definition of fascism or its true relation to other impulses, the term is commonly misappropriated and used with an endless variety of implications. So it’s not useful in news or commentary unless outlined for each particular scenario.
I’m not sure “republic” has much more usefulness because rule of law is not guaranteed by any system. It is forever dependent upon the will and ability of officials to enforce it as well as the will and ability of citizens to obey it. A king under threat of contentious lords can be more law-abiding than a president conspiring with a congress. Honorable culture and equity of raw power (chiefly violence and money) are the best securities of a legal order.
I agree with many of the comments. The past year has been a revolution in western politics. The people will no longer abide being told what to do by their “betters”.
Before I lost my liberty, it mattered to which ideology that loss would be in service. Once I lost it, I understood it never mattered. Only liberty mattered.
National socialism? Nazi Germany was a very successful social welfare state for the favored group... and until some of the “other people” whose money was being used or was going to be used to pay for it were able to do something about it. But seriously, “Fascist = Left” was a great Soviet propaganda triumph.
Fortunately, France currently doesn’t have the demographics to support an expansive fascist state, though we may be about to see how badly socialists, communists or fascists can wreck France’s economy.
Turkey will now be able to wield the refugee weapon in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor with no pretense about being on board with NATO, too. In any locale where Shia or Sunni gains a local advantage? Refugees! If Israel kicks Hezbollah’s behind (halevai!)? Refugees! Things go from bad to worse in Syria? Refugees!
Sultan Recep Tayyip will speak for them in Europe, the way the colonial powers spoke for Westerners in the old Ottoman Empire.