Those of us who are both sane and well educated – which is an increasingly rare combination of traits these days – are hoping Emmanuel Macron buries Marine Le Pen on Sunday.
And by all accounts he will. And they’ll be a certain satisfaction in that.
There have of course been all manner of attempts to explain why Macron is a just a “puppet” for the “evil” globalists, etc. etc. It’s the same refrain over … and over … and over from the alt-Right which, thanks largely to Steve Bannon, has managed to slither its way from the fringes of political discourse and inject itself into the broader discussion.
What’s perhaps most alarming about attempts to smear Macron is that (most of) those efforts implicitly suggest that French voters should choose Le Pen.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s insane.
It’s one thing to say that the UK would be better off outside of the EU. And it’s one thing to say that Hillary Clinton is out of touch and represents business as usual inside the Beltway. But it’s entirely another to blog-paign for a known bigot whose ties to Holocaust deniers are so well documented that one wonders how she’s even allowed on the ballot in the first place.
The interim head of Ms Le Pen’s National Front (FN) party had to step down as old articles surfaced in which he allegedly praised a Holocaust denier and expressed doubt that the Nazis used poison gas to murder Jews. Back in 2000 Jean-François Jalkh was reported to have said that Zyklon B, the gas employed, would have been “impossible” to use in “mass exterminations”. He has denied claims he was questioning the Holocaust.
And a whole lot of other folks too. Just consider this from Foreign Policy:
France’s far-right patriarch, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his daughter and heir, Marine Le Pen, are supposedly not on speaking terms. And yet earlier this year, they appeared side-by-side for almost two hours before a magistrate in a secret arbitration hearing in which the elder Le Pen rose to defend the younger.
The events at the hearing run directly contrary to Marine Le Pen’s preferred narrative about her leadership of the National Front. She portrays the moment, in 2011, that she took control of the party from her father as a break from what came before — the beginning of a process of dédiabolisation or “de-demonization” of a group formerly notorious for its anti-Semitism and fascist sympathies.
To this end, since taking control of the family’s political movement, Marine Le Pen has spent the past six years officially distancing the National Front from the anti-Semitic, neo-fascist roots that made the party, for many in France, untouchable. She intermittently, and with much fanfare, fires party candidates, elected officials, and apparatchiks who get caught spreading anti-Semitic hate. (Nice party boss Benoit Loeuillet was swiftly suspended by Le Pen last month, for example, after he was secretly filmed denying that there were not “that many deaths” in the Holocaust.) In 2015, she dramatically expelled her father from the party he founded over the latest of his periodic rants. She has scrubbed the family name, along with the National Front brand, from her current election campaign, opting instead to go with the slogan “MARINE Presidente.” And over the past decade she has overseen a shift from her father’s relatively free market economics and emphasis on small government toward a heavily protectionist, populist program she calls “economic patriotism.” Her rhetoric is hard-line when it comes to Muslims — she described them in 2010 as an “occupation” akin to the Nazis for praying in French streets — and immigrants generally, but she has never embraced the anti-Semitic hate speech of her father and painstakingly avoids his homophobia. As recently as last month she insisted there is “no relationship” with Jean-Marie Le Pen.
An election-eve wave of investigative journalism and research has painted a picture of an organization that, at its highest levels, is awash with Hitler admirers and Holocaust-denying far-right nationalists, including within Marine Le Pen’s inner circle, who could well be poised to work at the Élysée Palace should she win on May 7. “The French should know,” said former National Front senior figure Aymeric Chauprade, who spoke to journalists Marine Turchi and Mathias Destal for their book Marine Knows About Everything, published last month, that “if they vote for Marine Le Pen that she is not free” and her closest aides embrace a “visceral anti-Semitism.”
That book, recent TV news and radio reports, and an article in the newspaper Le Canard Enchainé have zoomed in on the veteran Le Pen advisor Frédéric Chatillon. As the Canard reported, and as outlined in Turchi and Destal’s book, the secretive former Sorbonne law school buddy of Marine Le Pen’s is a Hitler enthusiast who was once cited by French intelligence for making the Fuhrer salute at an Algerian war commemoration. He has also celebrated Hitler’s birthday and organizes fancy dress parties where guests come dressed up as Jewish inmates of World War II death camps. An admirer of dictators from Moscow to Damascus, he has done business with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. When the Panama Papers emerged in 2016, Chatillon was named in relation to a money-laundering operation involving sums of more than $318,000.
Journalists have also focused on Axel Loustau, the National Front’s treasurer, who serves as a councilor in Greater Paris and who has been charged with campaign financing fraud, and top Le Pen advisor Philippe Peninque. Loustau and Peninque, along with Chatillon, are former members of the Groupe Union Defense, an ultra-nationalist right-wing youth group that was virulently anti-Israel and eventually forcibly disbanded. Together, Loustau and Chatillon have visited the late Belgian Waffen-SS Nazi collaborationist politician Léon Degrelle in order to pay their respects. In 1992, Chatillon visited Degrelle in Spain twice, according to an intelligence report obtained by the authors of Marine Le Pen Knows About Everything. The men attended far-right soirees where one former National Front member interviewed by the TV program Envoye Speciale said “they laughed about Auschwitz, they said there was a football stadium and a pool for Jews, and that the deported weren’t gassed at all. They just died from illness and exhaustion.”
And from the Times:
Two men in her innermost circle — Frédéric Chatillon and Axel Loustau — are well-known former members of a violent, far-right student union that fought pitched battles with leftists and took a turn toward Hitler nostalgia in the mid-1990s.
They have been associates of Ms. Le Pen since her days in law school in the 1980s and remain among her closest friends, according to numerous accounts.
French television recently broadcast video from the 1990s of Mr. Loustau visiting an aging prominent former SS member, Léon Degrelle, a decorated warrior for Hitler and the founder of the Belgian Rex party, a prewar fascist movement.
Other video showed Mr. Chatillon speaking warmly of his own visit with Mr. Degrelle, who was a patron saint of Europe’s far-right youths until his death in 1994.
Some in the National Front flatly deny Mr. Chatillon and Mr. Loustau are either anti-Semitic or nostalgic for the Third Reich, while others make no secret of avoiding them, precisely because of their taint.
And it just goes on and on and on, the deeper you dig.
Of course none of this is news to anyone who knows anything about French politics and one certainly imagines it isn’t news to most people in France, which is why it’s so goddamn crazy that anyone is even considering voting for Le Pen.
As The Guardian notes, the fact that Macron even agreed to debate Le Pen is itself a milestone.
The very fact that Le Pen appeared in the debate was considered a major step in normalising her party. In 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the final, the right-wing Jacques Chirac refused to debate him on TV for fear of “normalising hate and intolerance”.
Fortunately, Jean-Marie Le Pen was crushed in the 2002 runoff by Chirac by a “thin” margin of 82-18.
Anyway, the point is that this is batshit crazy. Even more batshit crazy than Trump, whose victory was itself even more batshit crazy than the populist “coup” in Britain.
But even if Macron does beat Marine handily this weekend, it hardly marks the end of what Barclays calls “the politics of rage.” Consider a few excerpts from the bank’s latest the global populist uprising:
Voters clearly prefer the ‘Policies of Rage’ to globalisation
Even with stumbles by alternative parties, the ‘Policies of Rage’ clearly are being favoured by voters, often through cooption by the centre parties. As noted, Mr. Fillon won early campaign success with a message of reforming the EU to delegate more sovereignty back to member states. But, a closer look at the campaign pledges of all the French presidential candidates shows that a remarkable 67% of French voters cast a first-round ballot for either an outright eurosceptic candidate or Mr. Fillon’s alternative EU, more than twice the share in 2012 (Figure 2). More than half of French voters preferred candidates who explicitly rejected the path of globalisation.
A similar pattern was apparent in the Netherlands. The centre-right VVD blunted the PVV’s gains by shifting towards a tougher stance on immigration at both the national and EU level. Thus, while the eurosceptic vote rose almost 4pp to 15%, including the VVD and CU, parties seeking a shift in the member state-EU balance of sovereignty more than doubled to 54% (Figure 1). Additionally, the share of votes going to parties advocating more direct democracy – the second most frequent ‘Policy of Rage’ – leapt to 39% from 18% in 2012.
But perhaps the greatest cooption of the ‘Policies of Rage’ by a centre party has been in the UK. For Brexit negotiations, Prime Minister May has drawn a ‘red line’ around sovereignty and control of immigration, two of the top three ‘Policies of Rage’. While the disarray of other parties also plays a role, the collapse of UKIP and the relatively poor polling of the Liberal Democrats, the only national party actively campaigning for a ‘soft’ Brexit, suggest that the Conservatives’ huge lead in national polls represents an endorsement of Mrs. May’s policy shift. It is worth noting that Mrs. May has retained a globalist position on open trade, but as we noted in The Politics of Rage, surveys of UK voters show anomalously high favourable views of the benefits of trade relative to other advanced economies.
Similarly, the original ‘coopter’ – in reverse, ie, the alternative candidate who coopted a centre party – Mr. Trump still strongly advocates aspects of the ‘Policies of Rage’, even as he has become more establishment on foreign policy. His immigration policies have been unabashedly more restrictive and his rhetoric on sovereignty (‘America First’) and trade policy remains consistent with the ‘Policies of Rage’. Furthermore, it is those polices that earn him the highest marks in surveys, well above his personal approval ratings. As noted above, he retains an extremely high approval rating among his voters and polls indicate that he now would win the popular vote if an election with Hillary Clinton were re-contested today.
Say what you will about all of this and think what you like about the relative merits of globalization, progressivism, and multiculturalism, but what I can say definitively (as someone with advanced degrees in the area) is that history is replete with examples of this type of sentiment leading to horrific outcomes.
While it’s impossible to say which manifestation of populism anno 2017 will be the catalyst for events that will ultimately mark a dubious chapter in the history books, you can be certain that if the world keeps going down this road, something will eventually go terribly, terribly wrong.