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Right side of history

author: connor macneil | contributor

Credit: Lorie Shaull

The fear among supporters of Macron was that a nationalistic Le Pen would destroy the foundations of the secular French liberal democracy, and destroy France’s economy by cutting them off from their vital European trading partners.

On May 7, the French public went to the polls for the final round of what many French citizens would describe as the most significant election of their lifetime. On one side stood the former Rothschild’s banker and finance minister Emmanuel Macron with his liberal En Marche party, on the other stood the notorious Marine Le Pen and her father’s far-right National Front.

The two couldn’t have presented a clearer choice for French voters.

Macron ardently supported France’s continued membership in the European Union, liberalizing France’s highly centralized economy, free trade, and presents an open-door immigration policy.

Le Pen promised to hold a referendum on France’s European Union membership, increase government influence in the French economy, to remove France from all existing free trade agreements, and to put a moratorium on all legal immigration to France.

There was un-ignorable fear on both sides of the election.

Supporters of Le Pen feared that France’s continued membership in the European Union and Muslim immigration would destroy the French national identity. There is a concern among supporters of the National Front that the national elite in Paris will sell out the average French citizen to benefit themselves. By now, this story should sound awfully familiar to anyone who followed Brexit or the American election.

The fear among supporters of Macron was that a nationalistic Le Pen would destroy the foundations of the secular French liberal democracy, and destroy France’s economy by cutting them off from their vital European trading partners.

The French public overwhelmingly preferred Macron’s vision for France. 66 per cent of the public voted for Macron, to 34 per cent for Le Pen. Thankfully in the French electoral system, whomever gets majority gets to be president, which is apparently a revolutionary idea in some other democracies.

There were worries that Le Pen may stage a Trump-style comeback if fortune called her number. A terrorist attack at the Champs Elysées a few days before the first round of voting was thought to buoy Le Pen’s election chances. However, unlike Trump, Le Pen needed to overcome a 30 per cent gap in the opinion polls.

The opposition to Le Pen and her xenophobic, nationalistic policies was so forceful that the consensus was that any candidate who could make it to the second round of voting would win in a landslide. When the conservative Francois Fillon led the polls early in 2017, he was predicted to beat Le Pen by 25 per cent points if he got to the second round of voting. However, an expense scandal derailed his campaign as it was discovered he had paid 900,000 euros in government money to his own family for administrative jobs they never actually performed. This oversight paved the way for the upstart Macron to take the lead, and he never looked back.

Macron was anonymous in French politics as little as a year ago when he started En Marche. He was an outsider who had never been elected to political office. The fact that no candidate from either of the established political parties, the left wing Socialist party and the right-wing Republicans, shows how deep French antipathy toward the French political establishment runs. The incumbent President Francois Hollande did not even stand for re-election, his popularity numbers being below 10 per cent for much of the last year, his defeat would have been almost certain. The French people desperately desire change.

Just like Trump, Le Pen excelled in the rural departments (similar to states), which have come upon harsh economic times. Their population aging and in decline, and their economies ravaged by deindustrialization. In Le Pen, they saw a leader willing to fight for their interest against the Parisian and European elite.

Macron excelled with a far different group of voters, city dwelling young professionals and French entrepreneurs who believe that globalization and liberalization is the way forward.

France is plagued with high unemployment, with youth unemployment hovering around 24 per cent at the time of the election. Much of this has ben blamed on France’s inflexible labour laws and generous government employment. Macron vowed to give companies more leeway in contract negotiation and to slash public sector employment.

Macron is a revolutionary in France’s slow-moving political system, but his message is not a new one. His socially liberal yet economically conservative platform is like that of former prime minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair and former American President Bill Clinton.

Just as Clinton and Blair disappointed the left-wing voters who propelled them to success, there is a fear amongst France’s large left-wing electorate that Macron’s policies will mostly benefit the established elite and enforce the status quo. Many on the far left characterized this election as a choice between “pests or cholera.”

This comparison is the exact type of talk the world does not need right now. A divided left is the greatest weapon for those who want to roll back decades of social progress. The fight against xenophobic authoritarians like Le Pen and Trump is the most important political struggle of our generation. If we want to have the future we desire, some of us might need to accept temporary compromises.

Right now, Macron’s victory stands as a shining beacon to those who oppose the wave of far-right populism spreading that dominated 2016.

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