Global agenda: The flourish of le Pen

The political Establishment across the Western world is in disarray, as well as being in disbelief.

France's far-right National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen delivers a speech during a political rally in Six-Fours, near Toulon (photo credit: REUTERS)
France's far-right National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen delivers a speech during a political rally in Six-Fours, near Toulon
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This coming Sunday, Marine le Pen’s Front National party is likely to cement the political breakthrough it made last Sunday, when it became France’s most popular political party. If, as is expected, FN wins in at least one, probably two and maybe several provinces, it will become – for the first time – a party of government, rather than mere protest from the margins. True, that will be “only” local government, but it will position le Pen perfectly for the fight for the ultimate prize: to become president of the French Republic in the elections of 2017.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Donald Trump is still leading the polls for the Republican nomination for the presidential election due in less than 11 months. It seems that the more outrageous things Trump says, and the more often he makes outrageous statements, the more his popularity solidifies and grows. The clever people still think that Trump will not win the nomination, let alone the election – but even they have jettisoned absolute words, such as “inconceivable,” “impossible” and “never.”
In short, the political Establishment across the Western world is in disarray, as well as being in disbelief. It is faced with the possibility that many people – perhaps even an entire electorate – will swallow the slogans and wishful thinking behind extremist policies, those which the Establishment labels “impossible,” and that people will vote for candidates who the Establishment regards as unsuited to holding the offices to which they aspire.
Unfortunately, the historical record shows that it is the Establishment view that is wishful thinking. The political success of Hitler’s National Socialists – who never actually won an election but certainly gained considerable support – is only the most lurid example of extremist successes in democratic elections. There are many more, less horrible, much more recent, all around the globe.
But the wishful thinking doesn’t stop there. Donald Trump is plainly unsuited to the post of president, for numerous reasons – but his many supporters can, with frightening ease, turn that argument on its head. Was Barak Obama, a one-term senator with no executive experience of any sort and a very vague program replete with catchy slogans and promises, suited to be president? The answer is that he was not, and a system that allows such an obviously unqualified person to contend and even win is fundamentally flawed.
Le Pen, too, lacks any executive experience – a fact to be considered, irrespective of her views and policies. But in sharp contrast to Trump, she has been in politics a long time and is therefore far better known – for better or for worse. Indeed, le Pen can legitimately claim to be a shining example of how democratic politics is supposed to work. You present your views and, over time, you persuade more and more voters that your views are right and your program offers the best solutions to the problems facing the country. If it takes you many years to do this (it took Menachem Begin eight attempts over 29 years), that merely highlights your commitment to the democratic process.
Furthermore, France is an appalling mess. Most French voters most likely are not au fait with the full details of how miserable their country’s economic performance and prospects are, but they get the general idea. They are acutely aware of how pressing France’s social and ethnic problems are. Most of all, they strongly feel that the political Establishment, in the form of the two main parties or blocs, have not merely tried and failed to deal with the deep-seated problems facing la France; they are largely responsible for creating those problems, and for the most part, their efforts in government have made things worse.
Why, then, should French voters accept the judgment of the Establishment, that Ms. le Pen, her party and her policies are unworkable in practice and intolerable in theory. To very many Frenchmen, what Ms. le Pen says makes sense and, at the least, might be worth a try. This process of estrangement from and disillusionment with the Establishment, and the political parties that represent it, is at work right across Europe. The rise of Trump and of Bernie Sanders confirms that something similar is at work in America, although the American political process and its two-party system operate in a very different way.
In short, the political environment in the developed world is unlike anything seen since the World War II.
The speed with which the old order is unraveling is rising dramatically, and in the past six months it may be said to have gone from second gear to fourth. The implications are far-reaching, but most mainstream analysts and commentators are unwilling or unable to grasp them. The rise of the Front National does not “merely” threaten the EU, although that is far-reaching enough; it also poses a question mark over NATO and the entire geopolitical West vs Russia divide – because Marine le Pen’s natural ally is Putin’s Russia, not the America of Hilary Clinton or even Jeb Bush.
Left even further behind than the political pundits are the mainstream economic analysts. These latter continue to assume that the mega-trends that they grew up on, such as globalization, free flow of trade and capital and the other tenets of liberal economics, are inviolate and will continue to reign supreme. The facts increasingly suggest otherwise – but please don’t confuse us with facts.