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 $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2018

The Tragedy of Ted Cruz

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Rebirth of a Nation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Combustion Engines·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people.

Rice Ridge was what is known as a mega-fire, a recently coined term for blazes that cover more than 100,000 acres. The West has always known forest fires, of course, but for much of the past century, they rarely got any bigger than 10,000 acres. No more. In 1988, a 250,000-acre anomaly, Canyon Creek, burned for months, roaring across a forty-mile stretch of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness in a single night. A few decades on, that anomaly is becoming the norm. Rice Ridge, for its part, swept through 160,000 acres.

At this scale, the firefighting operation is run by an incident management team, a group of about thirty specialists drawn from a mix of state and federal agencies and trained in fields ranging from aviation to weather forecasting and accounting to public information. The management teams are ranked according to experience and ability, from type 3 (the least skilled) to type 1 (the most). The fiercest fires are assigned to type 1s. Teams take the name of their incident commander, the field general, and some of those names become recognizable, even illustrious, in the wildfire-fighting community. One such name is that of Greg Poncin, who is to fire commanders what Wyatt Earp was to federal marshals.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak fire (detail) © Laura Verhaeghe
Article
Rebirth of a Nation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Donald Trump’s presidency signals a profound but inchoate realignment of American politics. On the one hand, his administration may represent the consolidation of minority control by a Republican-dominated Senate under the leadership of a president who came to office after losing the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. Such an imbalance of power could lead to a second civil war—indeed, the nation’s first and only great fraternal conflagration was sparked off in part for precisely this reason. On the other hand, Trump’s reign may be merely an interregnum, in which the old white power structure of the Republican Party is dying and a new oppositional coalition struggles to be born.

Illustration by Taylor Callery (detail)
Article
Blood Money·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Over the past three years, the city of South Tucson, Arizona, a largely Latino enclave nestled inside metropolitan Tucson, came close to abolishing its fire and police departments. It did sell off the library and cut back fire-truck crews from four to three people—whereupon two thirds of the fire department quit—and slashed the police force to just sixteen employees. “We’re a small city, just one square mile, surrounded by a larger city,” the finance director, Lourdes Aguirre, explained to me. “We have small-town dollars and big-city problems.”

Illustration by John Ritter (detail)
Article
The Tragedy of Ted Cruz·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

When I saw Ted Cruz speak, in early August, it was at Underwood’s Cafeteria in Brownwood. He was on a weeklong swing through rural central Texas, hitting small towns and military bases that ensured him friendly, if not always entirely enthusiastic, crowds. In Brownwood, some in the audience of two hundred were still nibbling on peach cobbler as Cruz began with an anecdote about his win in a charity basketball game against ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. They rewarded him with smug chuckles when he pointed out that “Hollywood celebrities” would be hurting over the defeat “for the next fifty years.” His pitch for votes was still an off-the-rack Tea Party platform, complete with warnings about the menace of creeping progressivism, delivered at a slightly mechanical pace but with lots of punch. The woman next to me remarked, “This is the fire in the gut! Like he had the first time!” referring to Cruz’s successful long-shot run in the 2011 Texas Republican Senate primary. And it’s true—the speech was exactly like one Cruz would have delivered in 2011, right down to one specific detail: he never mentioned Donald Trump by name.

Cruz recited almost verbatim the same things Trump lists as the administration’s accomplishments: the new tax legislation, reduced African-American unemployment, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. But, in a mirror image of those in the #Resistance who refuse to ennoble Trump with the title “president,” Cruz only called him that.

Photograph of Ted Cruz © Ben Helton (detail)
Article
Wrong Object·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

H

e is a nondescript man.

I’d never used that adjective about a client. Not until this one. My seventeenth. He’d requested an evening time and came Tuesdays at six-thirty. For months he didn’t tell me what he did.

The first session I said what I often said to begin: How can I help you?

I still think of what I do as a helping profession. And I liked the way the phrase echoed down my years; in my first job I’d been a salesgirl at a department store counter.

I want to work on my marriage, he said. I’m the problem.

His complaint was familiar. But I preferred a self-critical patient to a blamer.

It’s me, he said. My wife is a thoroughly good person.

Yawn, I thought, but said, Tell me more.

I don’t feel what I should for her.

What do you feel?

Photograph © Joseph S. Giacalone (detail)

Chance that a homeless-shelter resident in a major U.S. city holds a full- or part-time job:

1 in 5

Turkey hunting was deemed most dangerous for hunters, though deer hunting is more deadly.

The unresolved midterms; Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III replaced; the debut of the world’s first AI television anchor

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