Here’s a really good column by Noah Millman, questioning the conventional wisdom that Marine Le Pen as president of France is unthinkable. Noah says he doesn’t support Le Pen at all, but he’s bothered by the inability of the bien-pensants to grasp why she doesn’t look so bad to a lot of French voters. Note well that Noah wrote a similar column about Donald Trump back when the possibility of a Trump presidency was too shocking to take seriously. Here’s the heart of his piece on Le Pen:
The FN’s course is unquestionably risky. But the risks of the status quo have been abundantly in evidence over the past decade, and what is to be done about them? Does anyone, at this late date, really believe that the EU is working? Either it is a failed experiment that needs to be abandoned, or European institutions need to be substantially rethought to make a common currency area work better for the people and not just for the interests of capital. Neither can possibly happen until a major, core country forces the question. What country better than France to force that reckoning?
The same can be said about NATO. Donald Trump argued repeatedly during his campaign that the alliance was obsolete (though he has now reversed himself on this as on so much else), but America could never plausibly reform it because we naturally want it to remain a force-multiplier for American policy rather than a true instrument of collective security. It will take a major European state to force a substantive change. Again, who better than France, which always historically charted an independent course?
Moreover, on neither front is the world going to change overnight were Le Pen to win the presidency. Rather, negotiations would commence for new arrangements. Those negotiations might go well or poorly — but it is a mistake to view any one election in apocalyptic terms.
Finally, it is true that a Le Pen victory would likely be welcomed in Moscow and in Washington, and would be a terrible blow to those who see themselves as the liberal vanguard. But there are other threats to liberal democracy than populist nationalism, and the technocratic order that Macron runs to vindicate may well be one of them. Brussels rules not so much with the consent of the governed as with the conviction that it alone is capable of properly balancing the continent’s manifold interests — which is precisely what ordinary democratic politics is supposed to be for. Is it so unthinkable to prioritize the latter threat over the threat of populism?
Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. The piece puts me in mind of how I felt the week before the US presidential election. I thought either outcome would be bad for America — and I wasn’t sure which one was going to be worse.
That was a very easy question for lots of voters to answer, on both sides. I wasn’t among them. The idea of four more years of an Establishment functionary (Clinton) filled me with dread. The idea of Trump did too, for the same reasons it bothered most everybody else. I found, though, that I was “anti-anti-Trump,” in the sense that while I could not support him in good conscience, I was most exercised over the vehemence with which so many people — including #NeverTrump conservatives — attacked him. Their visceral loathing of Trump was such that it blinded them to the very real failings of the Establishment — both Republicans and Democrats — that made a figure like Trump appealing in the first place.
I feel the same way about Le Pen. Were I a French voter, I would have gone for Fillon in the first round. This time? No way in hell I would vote for Macron, an empty suit who promises more of the same thing that has brought France to this miserable position it finds itself in. But for all my deep reservations about Le Pen (which Noah catalogs), I do not consider hear as unpalatable as Donald Trump, and for the reason Noah cites here:
Le Pen is not Donald Trump. She’s not a lazy, narcissistic, ignorant con artist. She’s been at this for years and she knows her stuff.
If Macron wins, as is still expected, does anybody seriously believe that France’s decline will be arrested? That the massive immigration problem in France will be taken care of? That the country will be put on the right path? Macron was a minister in the government of outgoing president François Hollande, who has a four percent approval rating. He is the poster child for an era now ending. Marine Le Pen might not be the future, but Emmanuel Macron is most definitely the face of 1995’s view of the future.
So: why not Le Pen? Again, read Noah’s great piece, and read Ross Douthat’s similar column from yesterday’s Times. Douthat wrote that she’s not like Trump for these reasons:
There is no American equivalent to the epic disaster of the euro, a form of German imperialism with the struggling parts of Europe as its subjects. There is no American equivalent to the challenge of immigrant-assimilation now facing France — no equivalent of the domestic terror threat, the rise of Islamist anti-Semitism, the immigrant enclaves as worlds unto themselves.
Which means that while much of Trump’s notional agenda was an overreaction to the country’s problems, some of Le Pen’s controversial positions are straightforwardly correct.
She is right that France as a whole, recent immigrants as well as natives, would benefit from a sustained mass-immigration halt.
She is right that the European Union has given too much unaccountable power to Brussels and Berlin and favored financial interests over ordinary citizens.
And while many of her economic prescriptions are half-baked, her overarching critique of the euro is correct: Her country and her continent would be better off without it.
The French will presumably vote against her nonetheless. They will choose Macron, a callow creature of a failed consensus, over the possibility that the repulsive party’s standard-bearer might be right.
That decision will be understandable. But it’s the kind of choice that has a way of getting offered again and again, until the public finally makes a different one.