This past Sunday, May 7, witnessed a much-needed victory in world news. France’s centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron took over 2/3s of the nation’s vote, securing his place as its next leader. Perhaps the collective sigh at seeing the results was less for Macron himself, though, and more in reaction to dodging a major bullet. I try to steer clear of political statements online, but I will not hesitate to oppose Marine Le Pen and the harmful messages sent by her far-right populist party, the National Front. Her election to the presidency would have been a death sentence for the European Union and a stepping stone for the countless other populist parties sprouting across Europe, many spewing hateful rhetoric and abusing the fear of their supporters. Le Pen’s militant nationalism and supposed wish to ban headscarves are repelling enough alone, but it’s her painfully direct link to one of the most incendiary figures in recent European politics that gives me the creeps. Jean-Marie Le Pen, father to our dear Marine, helped found the party in the 1970’s. He publicly criticized the French national football team for “having too many players of color” (more than once), denied the Holocaust, and has literally been convicted six times for his xenophobic and racist speech. Needless to say, Jean-Marie’s record is far from clean, and his blood link to Marine is evident (thankfully Marine’s opinions aren’t quite as awful as her father’s– although perhaps she simply lacks the audacity to share them).
With all these cons stacked against Le Pen it’s clear why news outlets and politicians weighed the French election as a matter of international concern. Still, though, I was surprised at seeing the number of Tweets and Facebook articles being shared by my peers on social media regarding the matter. “10 reasons why I’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton” or anti-Trump memes just became part of the social media landscape leading up to the U.S. election last fall, but major occurrences like the migrant crisis and Brexit didn’t seem to break much ground on millennial profiles. So, why now? Why the French presidential election? The average 20 year old on Twitter who’s neither French nor interested in politics would likely not be drawn to the event– it wasn’t violent or glamorous. I would argue, though, that its similarities to our last election had Americans anxiously holding their breath for either a setback or validation of the ideals shared by Le Pen and Trump. I’m not saying that the two matched each other to a tee on every policy, idea, and method, but for Americans left confused and distraught by their own election, this offered the closest thing to a “re-trial” of populism, nativism, and exclusionary politics. And perhaps images of joyous Frenchmen (of all ages, genders, and ethnicities might I add) waving their flag outside the Louvre gives hope to us Americans praying for our own version of the festivities four years from now.
photo from global.handelsblatt.com