The coronavirus crisis (first, as a threat to public health; then, because of its economic cost) and the subsequent vaccination drama (which led to a resurgence of old nationalisms disguised as lab wars) made invisible, at least for the great masses, the presidential race in France, which will reach its climax in May 2022.
The upcoming elections will be held without major (or new) protagonists: a year away from the first rendez-vous with the ballot boxes, all polls indicate that French pure and hard populism will meet the moderate La République en Marche, which revolves exclusively around one single individual, the current President Emmanuel Macron.
French populism shows its well-known representatives. On the far left is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a reactionary philo-Chavista who, like the now insignificant Parti Socialiste, proposes nothing other than raising taxes “on the richest.” The French left has always been noted for a deep hatred of anyone who produces, innovates or profits. To have more than the minimum is massively and automatically associated with exploitation and social insensitivity (little it matters if among the French millionaires are the greatest philanthropists and patrons of French heritage and art).
What differentiates Jean-Luc Mélenchon from the technocratic left (once accurately represented in the figure of François Hollande) is not simply his degree of radicalization and intransigence but his senseless sympathy for Islamist separatism, which has cracked French society to unprecedented levels. Mélenchon talks as if he was unaware that there are communities in the country where sharia law outweighs the laws of the republic and he systematically attacks the very institutions trying to fight this social poison.
On the extreme right of French populism is Marine Le Pen, who still ignores the most basic concepts of economics, proposing impossible protectionism that would only harm the interests of the French, but who harvests votes thanks to her not very eloquent anti-immigration speeches in which she confuses peaches with apricots.
At international level, there have been many who have sketched out far-fetched parallels between Le Pen and former U.S. President Donald Trump. The truth is that, beyond the lack of a certain diplomacy or protocol decorum, the French candidate is nothing like Trump. In fact, she is almost his opposite: Le Pen has lived off the civil service (in other words, she is not an anti-establishment outsider) and doesn’t hide her repugnance for finance and trade. It is true that Le Pen capitalizes on an unparalleled context to attract new voters, but that is a characteristic she shares with every politician ever, not exclusively with Trump.
In a desperate attempt to gain the backing of law enforcement, Marine Le Pen endorsed the two letters from allegedly active military personnel claiming that France is on the brink of a “civil war” —one of these letters was practically an invitation for intervention—.
Le Pen, therefore, is not only, as she’s commonly perceived, “harmful” to the economy, but is an absolute danger to the institutions.
Finally in the electoral fray is the current tenant of the Elysée, Emmanuel Macron, whose policies are often associated with the old Sarkozy right, and who has had a crisis-plagued administration, from the gilets jaunes, through pension reform, the burning of Notre-Dame and, of course, the pandemic.
Macron sins of arrogance and egocentricity; at times he confuses his persona with that of Charles de Gaulle (though he doesn’t have his vision) or with that of Jacques Chirac (though he doesn’t have his charisma). At the beginning of the current crisis, he promoted a false dichotomy between health and economy which resulted in extensive confinements sustained through handouts and foreign debt; strict confinements which, by the way, were unable to prevent more than 100,000 French people from dying.
But from the top of his refuge, up there on Olympus, Macron is the only candidate who fully understands the dimension of the current situation; he understands the threats facing not only his republic but the republic and, unlike his populist rivals, he has a plan that is not based on hatred (towards the rich or the immigrant) but is built on the principles that made France the eternal home of humanism and seeks to strengthen it in a context of uncertainty in which the smallest change seems to be a turning point. Puerile idealism aside, it is imperative to embrace the idea that Emmanuel Macron’s mission is not to be the best, but to prevent the worst.