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.

Tom Ladendorf May 6, 2017

Like Trump, Le Pen has anchored her campaign around a nationalism that is meant to pit the white majority against marginalized minority populations. (Photo by serge mouraret/Corbis via Getty Images)

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.

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 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.”

Immi­gra­tion crack­down

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.

Anti-migrant poli­cies

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.

Hate crimes

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.
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