Coda — November 18, 2016, 3:35 pm

Le Trump

Marine Le Pen in the age of Trump

In France last week, newspapers fretted, “Will Marine Le Pen Be the French Donald Trump?” Le Pen—who for years, as head of the far-right National Front party (F.N.), has based her platform on populist nationalism—had seemed genuinely surprised by Brexit in June. For this stunner, her camp was better prepared. Le Pen made sure to be one of the first foreign dignitaries to salute the American victor. “Congratulations to the new president of the United States Donald Trump, and to the free American people!” she tweeted early Wednesday morning, before Trump had technically clinched the win. Her surrogates were ready with messages intended to build momentum from his success. “95% of the US media campaigned against Trump,” an F.N. mayor in northern France tweeted, adding, “Remind you of anyone?” Le Pen’s partner, Louis Aliot, who is an F.N. vice president, pitched the news in historical and revolutionary terms: “This upending will take place on a ninth of November, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall!” And Florian Philippot, another F.N. vice president and Le Pen’s top strategist, went viral: “Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built.” By Sunday morning, when Le Pen gave an interview on the BBC, the slogan had solidified. “Clearly,” she said, “Donald Trump’s victory is an additional stone in the building of a new world, destined to replace the old one.”

When I interviewed Marine Le Pen almost exactly a year ago, it was a week after the November 13 attacks in Paris. Her party had suddenly found itself granted some credibility, as President François Hollande’s administration began co-opting a number of F.N. proposals for combating terrorism. “All these events signify that they’ve realized that the National Front is a great political force now, one that is totally inescapable,” Le Pen told me at the time. “They will no longer be able to treat us as a fringe movement.” She spoke with an overconfidence that suggested well-practiced propaganda, and I’m certain that not even Le Pen herself believed how quickly voters—first in the U.K., and then in the U.S.—would help make her case for legitimacy. (Le Pen, a much cannier politician than Trump, never endorsed him outright during the campaign, saying only, “I would vote for anyone before Clinton.”) Philippot quipped to me that members of the F.N. weren’t psychic, they had simply studied their positions carefully—on the damages of globalization and free trade, the instability that open borders and immigration would usher in—and the French people were taking note. “When I speak with our opponents about real problems, I don’t get a response,” he told me last winter. “They insult us, but they don’t respond. That’s because they no longer have the ability to debate us on the substance.”

Le Pen, who took over as the head of the F.N. from her father, Jean-Marie, in 2011, won almost 18 percent of the vote when she ran as a first-time presidential candidate a year later. The party has since broadened its reach—under Marine’s leadership, the F.N. has picked up eleven mayorships and tripled its representation in regional councils, partly through her efforts to “dédiabolise,” or make the party appear more moderate—and she is expected to advance to the runoff in the presidential election that will be held next spring. But Le Pen has still been considered incapable of garnering the majority needed to win. Although she has tried to distance herself from the brazenly anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric that her father promoted, her platform remains a dog whistle to the vehemently anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, who have always formed the F.N.’s base. Now, however, the election of Trump makes her ascendancy imaginable. “It allows her to say, ‘Look, my ideas are spreading around the world. Trump won this big victory in a big democracy—we can too,’” Nonna Mayer, a political scientist at Sciences Po, told me. Mayer has been studying the F.N.’s electorate and rhetoric for decades. She also noted that, like Trump, Le Pen gains strength from claiming to be an outsider. “The left and the right have been in office and even governed together in France—they are worn out,” she said. “Le Pen can say, ‘You’ve tried them both and they did nothing for you. Try us.’”

Resentment toward career politicians is potent and perhaps even more deeply rooted in France than it is in the United States. Functionaries are a class defined and regulated by laws of the state, i.e., themselves. Only 8 percent of French citizens say they trust political parties, and 88 percent believe the political class doesn’t care about people like them. “I can feel so much anger in the country,” Vincent Martigny, a political scientist at the École Polytechnique who recently published a book on the discourse of French national identity, told me. “There is rejection of all sorts of traditional authority. People think establishment figures are all lying. And there is a rejection of some forms of political reality—all sorts of dodgy websites that part of the electorate believe are saying more true things than traditional media.” President Hollande’s Socialist government is the most unpopular administration of the postwar era; one columnist recently joked about sending Hollande to “prison for mediocrity.” Among the mainstream-right party, Les Républicains, the lineup for the presidential election opens like a high-school yearbook of the establishment: Alain Juppé, a former Prime Minister and current mayor of Bordeaux, is expected to win the primary. He is seen as a moderate and a unifier—the likely next president—and has been in politics for several decades, yet he presents himself as a new figure, especially to young voters who don’t recall his time in national government during the Nineties. (“It’s mad but true,” Martigny said.) In the last few days, Juppé’s challenger François Fillon, another former Prime Minister, has climbed in the polls. And on Wednesday, Emmanuel Macron, a thirty-eight-year-old former economy minister, announced his candidacy as an independent; while he offers a young, modernizing, and optimistic voice, he will have a hard time distancing himself from his classically establishment background. Juppé’s main competitor is the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been running such a stridently nationalist campaign that Jean-Marie Le Pen recently declared him to the right of his daughter.

Martigny observed that Trump’s victory could, hypothetically, drive the French to seek balance and stability in Juppé. But taken together, Trump and Brexit herald “the assertion of strong powers like Russia,” he told La Croix, a French newspaper. The message received by the French may be: “The world is harsh and requires, in response, someone who is capable of confronting these powers,” he explained. “Not a naïf.” When we spoke, Martigny said that the same logic could benefit Sarkozy, “someone to talk to Trump, Putin, or Erdo?an.” And this is a moment for fervor. “When Sarkozy gets out of his rallies, he’s sweating through his shirt,” he told me, and voters may decide, “okay, he’s saying dumb things, but he wants it.”

Comparing the French and American electorates is, of course, an imperfect analogy. Trump was a mainstream-party candidate; Le Pen and the F.N. are not. Trump won over voters in rural and exurban areas feeling abandoned by government elites and, Martigny pointed out, though this has been the mood in France for a long time, the F.N. hasn’t managed to seize power on the national level. The party has taken over several towns in northern France—such as Hayange and Hénin-Beaumont, which I visited last year, where mining and manufacturing industries have been hollowed out—and in the south, where the party’s traditional base is. But those victories remain few in number.

It’s too early to offer serious predictions of what will happen, especially since we have learned to be skeptical of polls. French pollsters are concerned about how a surging far-right, along with the introduction of open primaries for Les Républicains this year, will affect their accuracy. For the moment it seems that a Sarkozy-Le Pen face-off in the présidentielle might be the only scenario in which she could prevail—and by default, as many left-leaning and moderate voters would almost certainly choose to stay home. If Juppé wins, his calm appeal may abet much fiercer currents building beneath the surface of the French right and within the F.N.—Marine Le Pen is seen by some in her party as too moderate, and they prefer her niece, Marion, a darling of Steve Bannon. Bannon’s Breitbart—he remains its executive chairman while he begins to serve as Trump’s chief strategist—has just announced plans to expand into France; this week, Marion is in Moscow for a meet-and-greet with Russian officials. “So, this is a Europe-wide revolution?” the BBC interviewer asked Marine on Sunday. Le Pen shook her head and gave a faint smile. “It’s a global revolution.”

Share
Single Page

More from Elisabeth Zerofsky:

From the October 2017 issue

Everyman’s War

The paramilitary fighters training to keep Russia out of the Baltics

From the May 2016 issue

Front Runner

Marine Le Pen’s campaign to make France great again

Commentary February 17, 2016, 2:30 pm

State of Emergency

“France’s efforts to expand and enshrine the emergency laws in the constitution have created a sense that the legal framework of the French Republic, and all that it stands for, is under threat.”

Get access to 168 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2019

The Story of Storytelling

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Myth of White Genocide

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
No Joe!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the heart of the US Capitol there’s a small men’s room with an uplifting Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt quotation above the door. Making use of the facilities there after lunch in the nearby House dining room about a year ago, I found myself standing next to Trent Lott. Once a mighty power in the building as Senate Republican leader, he had been forced to resign his post following some imprudently affectionate references to his fellow Republican senator, arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond. Now he was visiting the Capitol as a lucratively employed lobbyist.

Article
The Myth of White Genocide·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The squatter camp outside Lawley township, in the southwest of Johannesburg, stretches for miles against a bare hillside, without electricity, water, or toilets. I visited on a blustery morning in October with a local journalist named Mophethe Thebe, who spent much of his childhood in the area. As we drove toward the settlement he pointed out land that had been abandoned by white Afrikaner farmers after the end of apartheid in 1994, and had since been taken over by impoverished black settlers who built over the former farms with half-paved roadways and tiny brick houses. You could still see stands of headstones inscribed in Afrikaans, all that remained visible of the former inhabitants.

Article
The Story of Storytelling·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The story begins, as so many do, with a journey. In this case, it’s a seemingly simple one: a young girl, cloaked in red, must carry a basket of food through the woods to her bedridden grandmother. Along the way, she meets a duplicitous wolf who persuades her to dawdle: Notice the robins, he says; Laze in the sun, breathe in the hyacinth and bluebells; Wouldn’t your grandmother like a fresh bouquet? Meanwhile, he hastens to her grandmother’s cottage, where he swallows the old woman whole, slips into her bed, and waits for his final course.

Article
Run Me to Earth·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They were released.

For the first time in seven years, they stood outside in the courtyard of the reeducation center. They looked across at the gate. They remembered none of this. The flagpole and the towers. The cameras. Prany counted the sentries in the towers. He heard the rattle of keys as the guard behind him, wearing a green uniform, undid his handcuffs. Then the guard undid Vang’s. They rubbed their free wrists. Vang made fists with his hands.

Prany dug the soles of his new shoes into the dirt. He watched Vang’s hands and then turned to see the building they had exited. It resembled a schoolhouse or a gymnasium. The flag flapped in the wind. The sun on him. The immense sky. His neck was stiff. He knew that if they were forced to run right now his legs might buckle. Not because he was weak, but because in this moment, in the new environment, out in the open, his entire body felt uncertain.

Article
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ten years ago, a week after his sixtieth birthday, and six months after his first appointment with an oncologist, my father died. That afternoon, I went to my parents’ bedroom to clear up the remains of the lunch my mother had brought him not long before he collapsed. A copy of Yiyun Li’s novel The Vagrants, which he’d asked me for after I reviewed it in a newspaper, was open on his bedside table. He had gotten about halfway through it. The Vagrants isn’t what you’d call a consoling book—it centers on a young woman’s unjust execution in a provincial Chinese town in 1979—and I had mixed feelings about it being the last thing he’d read. Perhaps an adolescent part of me had been happy to let him have it out of a need to see him as a more fearless reader than he might have wanted to be just then. Still, my father had read Proust and Robert Musil while working as a real estate agent. There was comfort, of a sort, for me, and maybe him, in his refusal of comfort reading.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

Classes at a Catholic school in Durham, North Carolina, were canceled in anticipation of protests against a lesbian alumna, who had been invited to speak at a Black History Month event.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today