On the surface, it looks like Macron winning the French election over Le Pen is a victory for logic over populism. However, underneath the frosting? The same stale flavor exists.
The French vote for their next president on Sunday, May 7. It appears an open and shut case. The charming, young, former finance minister, Emmanuel Macron, will take his place in Élysée. Marine Le Pen will lose and the specter of far-right, anti-EU brutality will fade into the background for another five years. Last year delivered two horrifying populist ruses: Brexit in June and Trump in November. Now, thankfully, the tide of crisis appears to be receding, revealing the sands of normality once again. Geert Wilders was trounced in Holland and Merkel’s CDU is beating back advances from the anti-Islam, anti-immigration party – Alternative for Germany and Le Pen did worse than feared – so, everyone can crack a smile and relax, right? 2016 was a horrible, spine-tingling, edge-of-your-seat aberrative thriller, but finally, as expected, cooler heads have prevailed – En Marche!
The past few years saw an almost universal rise in anti-establishment, anti-immigrant, anti-globalization movements across the West. Why are people throwing in their lot with leaders compared to history’s greatest villains? It’s economic distress we’re told. Too many people out of work they say. Don’t you know? When people are desperate, they’ll listen to anyone who promises to save them, especially if they can find a scapegoat “responsible” for all of life’s woes.
But now, things seem to have changed and are getting better again … pheew!
So much is papered over. That rendition of the past simply will not do.
The trend is deeply, deeply troubling. The rise of far-right parties and a general hostility to the establishment is not an ex nihilo phenomenon – it doesn’t just manifest from nothing. Forget the parties – they were always there. It’s their rise in popularity that’s the signal – warning us of something. Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Geert Wilders … these are the names of mere symptoms, not the disease. Our system doesn’t work any more and no one seems willing to face this reality.
When these “symptoms” come bubbling up, what salve do we apply? A simple, two-step solution it would seem. The “liberal” corporate establishment and mainstream media that supply 100% of the information to 70% of the population unify behind two propositions: First, the candidate opposing the status quo is cast as a Hitlerian figure assuredly ushering in a Lord of the Flies-esque, Great Depression-era, slave-trading, evil empire-embracing, post-apocalyptic neo-holocaust chaos-space. Second, we’re told the “not the other guy” candidate is a steady hand on the ship. The one the world leaders like. The one the economists like. The one the celebrities like. Easy as pie: one + two = a sigh of relief.
Step back for a moment and see if there is anything odd about this formula? Do you see it yet?
Also on The Big Smoke
- The popular misconception of populism
- Knee-jerk Nationalism: The new black
- The lies and slippery slope of Trump’s presidency
The failure of the status quo to deliver an even distribution of economic, political, and social gains results in a large swath of the electorate wanting to tear the whole thing down. So, in response, the status quo shames enough of society into voting for the status quo; silencing voices traumatized enough by the status quo to literally seek a revolution. Thus, society drains along a little longer, round the ignorant-bliss-ity of a little more status quo.
We all take as given that our governments promise more than they can deliver, deliver on little of what they promise, take money to be a remedy in and of itself, and pass the burden of inefficient and barely-functioning programs onto the backs of hardworking citizens and the shoulders of future generations. It’s a wonder it’s so easy to shrug …
It’ll be no unmitigated triumph if Emmanuel Macron wins on May 7. We ought to be more skeptical. Macron does not appear to offer fundamental, structural, or reformist change – he feels like more of the same. Indeed, without a proper party structure, his anointed legislators probably won’t be swept in on his presidential mandate. What’s more likely is that members of the traditional Socialist, Republican (and even National Front) parties will take seats in his parliament. Macron could easily prove a very weak president or a simple conduit for the establishment. Net result: France in mid-2017 will be a political carbon copy of what France has been for the past five years.
The rise of far-right parties is a sign there is something deeply rotten in our social core. It might be globalization, mechanization, the loss of the middle class job: workers neglected while promised computer program retraining we know will never, ever happen. It might be a bloated leviathan-bureaucracy perched upon a social welfare monolith wasting money as though they print it. A system where half a generation gets hooked on the dopamine of free stuff, only to be pushed cold-turkey into the abyss of austerity – the inevitable consequence of an unsustainable system.
We do need a revolution. We need a society that doesn’t prioritize GDP over people’s satisfaction and quality of life. We need more free time to spend with friends and loved ones, not efficient apps to ensure there’s not a waking moment we don’t spend gigging to make rent. We need to stop pretending that the lives of people within three miles of the city is reflective of the lived experience of the other 70% of the population. Just because our 30% still benefit from the status quo, have an interest in its replication, and have the political, social, and economic resources to ensure its perpetuity – doesn’t mean we don’t need a revolution.
So, what’s the solution? Well, it’s a sad, sad day when the only way to express your desire for real change (not illusory, early 21st century, neoliberal, Obama, Macron, Cameron, Rudd change) is to vote for a goddamn Nazi …