Friday, August 05, 2016

2002 in France should be our benchmark for this 2016 US election

The French field of sixteen in 2002.
By Vpe - Own work, Public Domain

Supporters and opponents of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential bid would find a lot that looks familiar in the Programme de Jean-Marie Le Pen during the National Front (FN) leader's quest for France's presidency in 2002. Section four of the program was dedicated to reversing the flow of immigrants into France and immediately expelling all immigrants "en situation irrégulière," section seven was devoted to a new protectionism, and section thirteen was all about "la loi et l'ordre," a couple of words that came to our language from French with the Norman invasion and have become the Nixonian mantra for Donald Trump this year. The comparisons between Trump and the FN Le Pens, both Jean-Marie in 2002 and his daughter Marine now, are not far-fetched.

Going into the first round of voting on April 21, 2002, it was widely anticipated that the top two vote getters among the 16 parties participating would be the RPR's Jacques Chirac, the incumbent President (seen as "Super Menteur," or Super Liar, at 1'55" in the video above), and the Socialist Lionel Jospin, the incumbent Prime Minister. Nine national polls conducted in April had Chirac and Jospin within 1 or 2 percentage points of each other with Le Pen trailing them by 4 to 6 points in third.  It was therefore a major shock to everyone in the nation (and much of the world) when Jean-Marie Le Pen qualified for the final round of voting by coming in second (see 3'35" above). A stress on crime committed by foreigners immediately before the election had a lot to do with Le Pen's surge (just as some in the Trump campaign must be looking for a Trumpstag fire of their own in late October of this year).

As some Republicans in 2016 are fond of pointing out, France was then presented with "a binary choice" for the second round of voting on May 5. The parties of the Left which had eaten into Jospin's votes had no problem telling their supporters to vote for the Center-Right establishment candidate in the second round. On May Day there were competing public demonstrations, with 20,000 showing up for the FN's celebration of Joan of Arc and about a million showing up for the Labor Day marches with tricolors mixing with the red flags. The voting four days later wasn't any closer. Le Pen's total between the first and second rounds rose from 4.8 million to 5.5 million votes, but Chirac's rose from 5.6 million to 25.5 million. Chirac won the presidency with 82.2% of the vote.

That's the benchmark our centrist candidate Hillary Clinton needs to be shooting for on November 8, 2016. There's no room for the luxury of voting Green or writing in Bernie Sanders. We need to look toward France 2002 for our model of rejecting xenophobia and the cult of personality in USA 2016.

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