Bataille de France: Populism Crushed in French Election

Commentary: Reagan Reed

As if there wasn’t enough political drama to keep up with here in the United States, for some reason I also find the politics of other countries to be extremely fascinating. A pretty good sign I’m an addicted political junkie and might have a problem. But in all serious, I think paying attention to the politics of other democracies can actually teach us a lot about our own system, comparing both similarities and differences.

Incumbent President of France Emmanuel Macron sailed to re-election Sunday night, defeating challenger Marine Le Pen handily in the second round of voting. It wasn’t even close: Macron garnered 58.6% to Le Pen’s 41.4%.

If “globalism” (whatever that means) was a person, I suppose it would be Macron. He is pro-capitalist, pro-Europe, and pro-NATO. For all his faults, he is at least a serious and responsible adult in an age of infantile imbeciles.

I’m not particularly a fan of Macron, however, I don’t particularly loath him either, and he was probably the lesser evil- a sentiment with which the majority of French apparently agree. Macron is like vanilla ice cream: not very many peoples’ absolute favorite, but the least objectionable choice for the largest number of people. He is usually described as a centrist.

Le Pen has often been described as “far-right”, however, it would be hard to make sense of her politics in an American context. Perhaps the best way to describe Le Pen would be to say that she combines the economic policies of Bernie Sanders with Donald Trump’s views and rhetoric towards immigrants and Muslims. In other words, her party combines the worst aspects of both the American right and left.

From an American standpoint, a Macron win is a good thing. Had she won, Le Pen would have almost certainly pulled France out of NATO. She has also been cozy with Russian Tsar Vladimir Putin. However, the center right party, with which I would probably most align, has all but collapsed in the last couple elections. France doesn’t have a center left party now either. This election was essentially a contest between the centrist Macron, the reactionary populist Le Pen, and a far left socialist who came in third place. This time, the center held.

Populism is a response to problems that are often very real. Unrestrained immigration without proper assimilation is a sure way to create a reactionary populist movement in your country. High energy costs and economic problems which feed populism are also very real as well. However, the solutions offered by the populists (to the extent they even offer any solutions) are usually vapid and wouldn’t really solve the problems.

Populism is also by definition anti-elite and anti-expert. However, you kind of need experts in order to successfully implement a policy agenda.

The outcome of the French election was probably never seriously in doubt. Le Pen’s father ran for president many times on a populist/nationalist platform, and Le Pen herself lost to Macron in the 2017 election. The problem for the populists, both in France and here in the U.S., is that their rhetoric and approach drives away many more people than they attract.

Trumpism never commanded anywhere near a majority of the American electorate, and it doesn’t even fully control the Republican Party (although it is the dominant wing of the party- for now). Trump was able to eke out a win in 2016 because all the stars aligned just right. However, that was not the case in 2020. The surest thing about populist movements all throughout history is that they are always transitory.

The way to build a durable majority coalition is to offer real solutions to people’s everyday problems. A party needs a compelling message combined with serious policy and competent governance. As both major U.S. political parties practice the politics of division and pander to the most extreme and deluded elements of their base, a huge opportunity exists for whichever party can get its act together and just be sane.

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Published by Reagan Reed

Reagan is a journalist and educator from East Texas. He has been involved in numerous campaigns, worked at the Texas Legislature, and covered Texas politics for years as a journalist.

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