In the early hours of Wednesday, November 10th, 2016, the people of the United States of America elected Donald J. Trump President.
As the French thinker De Tocqueville pointed out, America is often a reliable “advance indicator” of what happens in France. French political analyst Nicolas Bouzou, back from a recent visit to the US, wrote in the daily Le Figaro that the “American nightmare campaign of 2016 will be reenacted in a French nightmare campaign of 2017.”
Well, the “American nightmare campaign” brought us President-elect Trump. So the question is, who will be elected in France’s nightmare campaign? Le Monde columnist Françoise Fressoz offers the answer: “The political reality in France can now be summed up in one question. Who can stop Marine Le Pen?”
Comparisons between Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump have been popping up on both sides of the Atlantic generating headlines like, “Donald Trump is now America’s Marine Le Pen.” And so far, Marine vehemently rejects comparisons between herself and Trump – “Je suis pas américaine!” (I’m not an American!)—but we can’t help but notice the similarities.
On a surface level, the connections between them aren’t evident. Marine (the French often refer to her simply by her first name) is a lawyer and twice-divorced mother of three children. Trump is a billionaire egomaniac living in a world of casinos, Manhattan real estate and reality TV. But Trumpism and Lepénisme have a great deal in common: both advocate torture, mass deportation and religious discrimination. Neither of them believes that climate change is caused by human activity. And that’s just the beginning.
Trump’s rise in American politics began with promises to deport 11 million undocumented people and build a “big, beautiful wall” along the US-Mexican border. He wants a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US” and warns that immigration in Europe will lead to “revolutions” and “the end of Europe.” Meanwhile, Le Pen pushes a “France-first” vision for the country, by halting immigration and deporting immigrants. Le Pen compares the presence of Muslims in France to the Nazi occupation. She has created an elaborate narrative of white French people falling victim to reverse-discrimination. (Sounds like Trump’s panic at having a black president.)
The world Trump and Le Pen live in is not about the traditional split between Left and Right politics. Trump challenges Republican ideals by supporting entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. In the same breath, he calls for a wall on the border with Mexico and higher taxes for hedge fund managers. Le Pen mashes up far-right nationalism with some distinctly leftwing economics (i.e. a protective state should control health, education, energy, banking).
Trump and Le Pen are regularly both accused of being fascists. American journalist Carl Bernstein thinks Trump is an American “neo-fascist,” and people as diverse as Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Mexican president Enrique Pen and Anne Frank’s stepsister Eva Schloss agree. As for Marine, one of her nicknames is la peste brune (a reference to the Plague, and brown shirts of Nazis). Desperate to get rid of the fascist label, she has actually kicked her anti-Semitic father out of the National Front party and is now making a pitch to Jewish voters. She sued a comedian (and lost) for calling her a fascist bitch.
Trump and Le Pen preach about the importance of “nationalism” over “globalism.” The globalists are the ruling oligarchies in the US and France, represented by mainstream political parties that pursue the same policies under different names. Trump is an America-First isolationist. Le Pen wants to halt free trade, and claw back monetary and territorial sovereignty. Marine, who doesn’t speak a word of English, regards “les Anglo-Saxons” as being on the side of the enemy, responsible for the curse of multiculturalism and, more generally, the creation of a globalized, war-torn world. She opposes international unions, like the European Union, saying, “I am only looking for one thing from the European Union, and that’s for it to explode.”
Both Trump and Le Pen want to withdraw from NATO. They also both admire Putin and see him as a potent ally in the struggle against the globalists. The Trump campaign is reported to have made contact with Putin’s offices. The National Front, in fact, has received financial backing from the Russian leader.
Economic anxiety fuels much of the support for anti-establishment populists Trump and Le Pen. Both reach out to working-class white voters struggling in the globalized economy with promises to undo policies that screwed them. Support has been ample for both politicians. In May, for the first time in French history, a far-right party scored the most votes in a national election: 25% of the votes in the European Parliamentary race. Ever since, the National Front has crowned itself the “First Party of France.” The idea that the far right was safely quarantined was deftly proven to be just an illusion. …Sounds like a certain alt-right, or extreme-right we know.
These political outsiders are setting a new populist agenda for the US and France, merging hostility to immigrants with the fear of terrorism. When Trump gave his first campaign interview to the European media in February 2016, he repeated verbatim what France’s conservative National Front has been saying for decades: “France, is not what it was, nor is Paris.” For America, his words are the same: “America is not what it used to be.” Implying that the best years are behind us, Trump always continues on a hopeful note by commanding: “Make America Great Again.” Now he has four years (maybe less, maybe more) to execute his plans.
As for Marine Le Pen, a second-round place in France’s presidential election would be a major victory in a war she’s convinced she’ll win. She will continue to expand and rebrand the National Front. And the “First Party of France” will field candidates every step of the way at every level of elective office.
If she doesn’t win in 2017, Marine will be back and stronger in 2022, and again in 2027.
This article is a modified and abbreviated version of an article published on Frenchly in March 2016. To read the full article, click here.
Featured image: Stock Photos from Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock