đź”’ Premium: Another French Revolution. Le Pen suggests anything possible, even in SA

There is something really big happening in France. Everyone should keep an eye on it. Disengagement from the political establishment is gaining momentum.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron defeated far right candidate Marine Le Pen by 32 percentage points in the final two-way presidential election. Macron’s landslide was interpreted as ending a trend that led to Trump and Brexit. If true, the reverse has not lasted long.

With less than a fortnight to go until France’s election day, exit polls have Macron leading his challenger by just two percentage points. In other words, it’s now too close to call. This is surprising considering the changes it would introduce. Were Le Pen to win, she promises Frexit; reform of France’s immigration policies; and withdrawing French troops from NATO control.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine brought Western nations closer. The aftermath of a Le Pen victory, however, could drive a wedge into that newfound unity. It would also tell us pretty much anything is possible today. Including ejections of governing political parties supposed to rule until the Second Coming.

More for you to read today:

Macron, the Establishment’s Savior, Suddenly Looks Vulnerable in the French Election

Five years ago, he was the antidote to Brexit and Trump. Now he’s running even with Marine Le Pen

Emmanuel Macron waves as he arrives at his house after voting during the second round of the French presidential election in Le Touquet, France, on Sunday, May 7, 2017. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

By Gerard Baker of The Wall Street Journal

When will the political, corporate and cultural leaders of the West finally understand the level of discontent with the direction of political travel in their countries over the past two decades?

Five years ago, when Emmanuel Macron comfortably defeated Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election, it was hailed by a nervous establishment on both sides of the Atlantic as a turning of the tide against the populist revolution that had produced Brexit and Donald Trump the previous year.

Mr. Macron was the ultimate—if slightly improbable—champion of the wobbly elites. A former investment banker who’d been an economic adviser to a Socialist president, he emerged from nowhere before beating back the insurrectionist forces of Ms. Le Pen, a staunch nationalist and economic populist who was still struggling to escape the racist stench of the party founded by her father.

The sigh of relief at Mr. Macron’s 2-to-1 margin of victory could be heard across the West, from bureaucrats in Brussels and chief executives in Davos to members of the permanent government and editorial class in Washington, still waging their own war to overturn the Trumpian populist revolt in the U.S.

Five years on, as it was said of the Bourbons on their restoration to the French monarchy two centuries ago, these people have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

After emerging as the front-runners in Sunday’s first round, the two candidates will go at it again in the second round of the election April 24. Mr. Macron is favored to win, but the margin seems likely to be dramatically smaller. Polls suggest only a few points separate him from Ms. Le Pen.

Underscoring the us-vs.-them, “Les Misérables” battle lines of the new political order, she will probably benefit from the support of many of those who voted in the first round for Jean-Luc Mélanchon, tribune of the far left, who came remarkably close to seizing the populist banner in the second round himself.

Even if she loses, her National Rally party will have seen its electoral share grow from the 18% her father achieved in 2002 to nearly half of French voters.

There’s no need for thoughtful conservatives to cheer for Ms. Le Pen. While she has worked to detoxify her party of its fascistic strain, there is still something of the night about her and her appeal to baser human instincts. Her evident admiration for Vladimir Putin, tempered only a little by his invasion of Ukraine, is an instructive insight into her leadership aspirations.

But the wider message of her steadily rising appeal is obvious: The discontent of a rising share of the populations of Western democracies has not come close to being assuaged.

This discontent has complex and manifold roots. There is the cultural alienation from a progressive hegemony in the West’s major political, academic, media and artistic institutions; anger at the vast economic inequalities produced by globalization; a loss of morale from reversals in foreign wars and the rise of alternative civilizational models; unease at an officially sanctioned uncontrolled immigration that changes the character of nationhood and citizenship; frustration at the failure to address the rot exposed by the global financial crisis; resistance to the new religion of universal climate-change compliance with its costly implications for energy consumers; and, most recently, seething fury with the little autocrats in government and health bureaucracies decreeing lockdowns, masks and vaccine mandates.

Multiple and divergent causes—but underlying it all, righteous indignation at the arrogance of unaccountable elites who dismiss opposition to their authority as the product of bigotry and ignorance and denounce anyone displaying it as a traitor or a domestic terrorist.

Every time the people take to the ballot box to signal their desire to change course, the reaction of these elites is to dismiss the votes as the result of some combination of deception and foul play. When the British people voted for Brexit and the American people elected President Trump in 2016, we were told it was the work of Russian interference, racism and voters’ stupidity. In both countries, the media and political establishment actively fought to overturn the results.

When Joe Biden’s Democrats won narrowly in 2020, they immediately set about undoing everything Mr. Trump had done. They not only tried to re-establish the ancien regime; they were intent on, as they put it, building it back better. They still act surprised when polls suggest voters are ready to demolish the entire project.

If Mr. Macron is re-elected, expect to hear conciliatory words from him and his allies around the world about the need to listen more carefully to the concerns of the people. But they will be words only.

Their deeds—on everything from immigration, climate, the endless war on traditional cultural values—will speak louder. If words and deeds remain unaligned, the tide of popular frustration will eventually sweep them all away.

* Gerard Baker is Editor-at-Large of The Wall Street Journal. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones from 2013 to 2018. 


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