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The Aftermath of the American Election

I'll admit, I wanted to post sooner but I have been avoiding the elephant in the room: politics and the American election.

We talked a lot about the election in my lessons with my students, starting with the primaries last winter. We looked at the general election procedure, talked about the big issues, studied the electoral college, watched debate excerpts etc. There is no doubt that this election was particularly rich for discussion. And it also caused great disappointment.

I was surprised actually after the election how much solidarity French people expressed with Americans and the election results. And I quickly realized that their solidarity wasn't just because they were sympathetic. It was because they were scared the same thing is going to happen in France...and it could.

The win of Donald Trump reflects back their own fears about the rise of the French right-wing populist and nationalist party, a party that has been gaining in momentum and popularity since the last election in 2012.  

Why is France concerned with this party? The French far-right party, called the Front National, generally has extreme rhetoric and policies. It opposes France's membership in the European Union, it is also anti-immigration (i.e. bad for someone like me!). But what is particularly frightening about the Front National is the memory of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen was notorious for his anti-Semitic and racist comments, denying the Holocaust. In this sense, the Front National could be as if a political party in the US had historical ties to the Ku Klux Klan. His daughter is now the leader of the party and actually expelled him from the party and has since tried to 'soften' its image. But the main image of the party remains.

Marine Le Pen in a Front National rally
image by Blandine le Cain, see photo credits at bottom of page

This is one reason why France is afraid of the results of the American election. Because seeing strong populist and nationalist rhetoric win out on our side of the Atlantic means there is a very real chance it could happen in France as well.  Marine Le Pen was one of the first politicians to react to Trump's election, and issued positive statements saying that Trump "shows that people are taking their future back," and stated clearly that the Trump victory could be helpful to her own chances in the presidential election. [1]

To make matters worse, up until recently there was another presidential hopeful named François Fillon who seemed to be a strong rival for Le Pen. But he was accused of serious misuse of public funds and has now essentially been discredited and lost most of his political integrity. He was accused of employing his wife as his assistant for 8 years, and paying her 500,000 euros. This is legal in France, but it is unclear if his wife ever actually did work for him, or if the family was just lining their pockets with public funds. Fillon is now set to go on trial in March for this matter. He has stated time and again that he still wants to represent his party in the election, but his chances seem slimmer and slimmer with the first round of elections scheduled for April 23. (For more on this, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/27/penelope-gate-casts-dark-shadow-over-fillons-presidential-prospects)

So in short, the one candidate many people were banking on to defeat the extreme right party now seems unable to uphold any kind of political integrity.

The French election will happen in two parts. France doesn't have a bipartisan system like the in US, and so currently there are 11 candidates who will all appear on the first ballot on April 23. The two winning candidates of this first round will then compete for the presidency in the election on May 7, 2017.






[1] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/15/politics/marine-le-pen-interview-donald-trump/
photo credits: image by Blandine le Cain via https://www.flickr.com/photos/blandinelc/7421296060/in/photostream/

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