France: a Stage Show About Power, in the Year 2017

France: a Stage Show About Power, in the Year 2017

Elections must never put voters to sleep. This is now the rule in both Europe and the US. The ferocity of Trump’s and Clinton’s campaign spats in the US and the intrigues surrounding Hofer in Austria and Wilders in Holland all help to enliven pubic life by injecting a festive element of street theater. 

This theater has been and will remain a popular spectacle. Showtime - which is what elections are increasingly becoming - offers a respite from the daily grind. Gone is the sensation that democracy is stuck in a boring rut, making it easy to forget that although those holding power in your country rotate out every 4-5 years, for some reason voters are seeing diminishing returns. And each changeover signals a new race to the bottom. 

The French, who will go to the polls to choose their next president on April 23, even make the joke «we have no politicians left». 

But there’s more than a grain of truth to that joke. After all, France has seen eleven presidential elections since General de Gaulle established the Fifth Republic, and enough officeholders have held that position between de Gaulle and Hollande that French voters know how to size them up, plus they’ve been treated to a few international illustrations. 

A French citizen is proud of his right to exercise his bit of sovereignty over his nation, but his good judgment has never betrayed him. He sees how Washington’s power machine is operating even less effectively after Trump’s theatrically colorful victory over Clinton, plus the next pageants are scheduled begin in 4-5 years in Austria and Holland, which both saw such a pre-election ruckus, and yet the «scandalous» Hofer and Wilders have been completely forgotten as long as the newly elected leaders hold a mandate. But the odds are that during that time the play will be rewritten and new actors will be auditioned.

And the French stage show about power that has been submitted for production in 2017 is distinguished only by its inventive plot. The most important thing is to keeping stirring up interest in what’s going on among those empowered with their nation’s sovereignty. This is necessary, so that those so «empowered» do not realize that this festival of democracy that begins in France this Sunday and ends with the second round of voting on May 7 has nothing to do with them. It’s no simple thing to sustain such interest, when your «target audience» is as large as 45 million people. There’s a lot to take care of - such as deftly spreading «dirt» within the media on specific aspirants for the job of head of state, as well as pelting some of the candidates with fresh eggs at their public appearances. It’s also not a bad idea to toss a Molotov cocktail into an opponent’s election headquarters or to arrange for a little tear gas to send a few demonstrators running. And then the DGSI (the French General Directorate for Internal Security) will report a «substantial and immediate» terrorist threat to some candidates. There’s no chance of getting bored.

Of course it’s possible that the playwrights working on such a spicy plotline could go a bit overboard: the clearly excessive number of pre-election «divertissements» being pushed on the French these days could provoke quite the opposite reaction in a sensible person. And that would be the worst possible outcome for the «system»: the people would vote in the elections not with their ballot papers, but, as they say, with their feet. 

To prevent this, the slideshow of images on TV screens and the Internet should be changing so rapidly that no one can figure out what’s going on. That’s more or less what’s happening now. 

At first there were two favorites in the matchup for the French presidency - François Fillon (the Republicans) and Marine Le Pen (the National Front). Then Fillon was buried under an avalanche of dirt. He still remained a frontrunner in the race, but Emmanuel Macron - representing the En Marche political party created specifically for this election - became the key player on the pre-election stage set, and thus Marine Le Pen’s biggest rival. 

The editor of the Réseau Voltaire website, Thierry Meyssan, points to Macron’s invitation to attend the Bilderberg Club’s annual meeting in 2014 as a direct tie to the «Opération Macron» that was launched two years later by the «supporters of the alliance between the French ruling class and the United States» (More precisely, the neocon faction within the American establishment). 

Macron has scant political experience, but his resume includes his work at the Rothschild & Cie Banque and some even see him as a protégé of this powerful family. For a period Macron was also the Minister of Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs in Manuel Valls’ government under President François Hollande (the «digital affairs» line item in this list of his former duties is particularly important) 

In short, the 39-year-old Macron is being fast-tracked to the president’s office. This does not guarantee he’ll be elected, but his fast-tracking is being done with some urgency. The famous French eloquence is already in full evidence in this undertaking: this inconspicuous former banking official is being compared to both Napoleon and Roosevelt. But since the French don’t see working either for the Rothschilds or the government during the administration of the unpopular Hollande as a recommendation, Macron himself prefers to invoke the image of the Maid of Orléans in his campaigning rhetoric, apparently believing that a reference to the heroic Joan of Arc from the lips of a presidential candidate will be heard as a call to «Vote your heart!» and will thus ensure victory.

After the electorate’s attention was shifted toward the young «right-wing» Macron, another massive shift took place and the 65-year-old «left-wing» Jean-Luc Mélenchon - who launched his political career in the Trotskyist International Communist Organization - began closing in on the top three contenders. Although it’s true that in French politics the «right» and «left» are so hopelessly muddled that not even a professor at the Sorbonne, much less the man on the street, can figure out who is actually who. 

And seemingly just to make things even more confusing, the «left-wing» Socialists suddenly defected over to the «right-wing» Macron (the order to help push Macron into the president’s office was issued by the Socialist former prime minister, Manuel Valls, to his own party members, after stunning the French with his statement after the bloody terror attack in Nice that «there will be new attacks... there will be more innocent victims... [this] will continue to weigh on France for a long time».

By the way, Mélenchon’s transition from outsider to favorite status during this enthralling pre-election rivalry was pulled off using a simple but effective method - via televised debates on TF1 (not previously a common practice in France before the initial round of presidential elections). The show on TF1 brought in 11 million viewers - almost as many as the number who watched the broadcast of the final match of the World Cup. In other words, this is a spellbinding drama.

Mélenchon is a gifted orator, he once again proved that populism is immortal: his rallying cries («Raise salaries so no one lives in poverty» and «Act to further peace on earth») put Mélenchon hot on the heels of the top three frontrunners prior to the intermediate finish line on April 23 that will determine which two will continue to the second round runoff (the polls give Macron, Le Pen, and Fillon 24-28% of the votes in the first round).

If we’re being serious, then the fact that Mélenchon’s rallying cries of this type have proved so popular is also indicative: more than anything else the French are concerned with the growing gap between the rich and the poor, plus all the various and sundry threats to a tranquil life. Just as these problems worry Americans, Germans (their elections are also coming up), and everyone else. But that’s if we’re being serious. There is one thing that’s preventing a serious conversation: the sideshow atmosphere of this festival of democracy is obscuring the real-life problems that people face. Amidst the rapid-fire slideshow of «divertissements» in France, the candidates’ specific policy platforms and political and economic ideas are a very low priority for discussion. In some cases, it’s not even clear whether such ideas exist at all. 

I hope however that between the two rounds of the election (April 23 and May 7) there will still be an opportunity to address some of the more substantive aspects of the platforms of the first pair of candidates, without being distracted by the ones who are being sifted out. There’s a reason that the current elections in France are actually a plebiscite on the expediency of the country’s further continuance in the European Union.

Tags: France  Le Pen