Le Pen might copy Trump but ‘France is not the US’

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On February 1, Nigel Farage addressed the European Parliament to defend and promote the American immigration ban. With a Donald Trump pin adorning his lapel, the former UKIP leader - and soon to be Fox News anchor - used the opportunity to blast the European Union’s criticism of the American president policies.

In his words, Donald Trump’s plan is in no way a discrimination against Muslims but instead a legitimate protection against Islamic terrorism and a much needed decision to reinforce the sovereignty of the United States. Failing to acknowledge the questionable morale grounding of using refugees as scapegoats of a populist agenda, Farage criticized European objections as simply revealing the "true nature of the European project, an anti-Americanism without make-up".

Xenophobic discourses from far right leaders is nothing new in Brussels, but Donald Trump’s victory has unleashed a wave of optimism and assertiveness among European populist parties. If the United States elected as president a leader who blatantly disregards facts or expertise to stir citizen’s fears and promote a nationalistic agenda, why would Europe be any different?

The annual gathering in Koblenz last month of the "Europe of Nations and Freedom" coalition - the political bloc constituted by European xenophobic parties - was a demonstration of populist leaders’ confidence. One by one, a day after Trump’s inauguration, extreme right representatives unleashed their racial ideology on the stand, unabashed by the fascist stench and blatant inexactitude of their discourse.

Trump was celebrated

Far right leaders celebrated Trump’s entry into the White House as it provided credential to their own xenophobic political agenda. The slogan “America first”, hammered by the Republican candidate during his campaign, echoed the political discourse of the French National Front over recent decades and the more recent chants of the Pegida demonstrations in Germany. Similarly, the thrashing of independent press and media waged by Donald Trump since his entry in the White House is no different than the constant victimization strategy deployed by European fascist movements from the 1930s to today. History repeats itself: at the Koblenz conference, militants chanted "luggenpresse" or "lying press", the German catchphrase used in Nazi propaganda to reject any form of investigative journalism.

U.S. President Donald Trump applauses as a marching band performs while he arrives at Trump International Golf club to watch the Super Bowl LI between New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (Reuters)
U.S. President Donald Trump applauses as a marching band performs while he arrives at Trump International Golf club to watch the Super Bowl LI between New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (Reuters)

The coming months will be of critical importance for the future of Europe with key elections held in France, Germany and the Netherlands. In all three countries, extreme right leaders hope to capitalize on Trump’s victory to set record scores. Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are currently leading in the polls while Frauke Petry hopes that the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) party she is heading will change the German political landscape in September.

Brexit and the coming to power of Donald Trump gave far right leaders wings and reinforced their call for a national "reindustrialization plans" with the return of protectionism, foreign investment control and the reintroduction of national currencies. Marine Le Pen forecasted a “rise of Continental Europe after the Anglo-Saxon world woke up in 2016” and the recent Presidential decrees in Washington are in line with the French National Front political platform.

However, such economic policies would be catastrophic for the French population and above all for the middle and lower classes. France does not have the power of economic attraction that the United States enjoy and a French currency would immediately plummet as the British pound did after the Brexit vote. The main victims would be senior citizens and the young generation who would feel the pain of the resulting increased energy and import prices.

Flurry of racist comments

Similarly, a capital flow control would trap individual savings inside the country and increase inequalities as the globalized wealthiest can take preventive measures to export their financial resources while random citizens would face the dire consequences of a currency devaluation. The result of a Le Pen victory would thus not be a record setting Dow Jones but rather the catastrophic scenario of an Argentina-like economic crisis.

The flurry of racist comments from Trump also disinhibited Marine Le Pen who delivered her first ever speech in Germany while she previously avoided associating herself with the obviously radical and xenophobic positions of the AfD. In Koblenz, she raged against the globalist elites, the European Union and, in particular, the millions of Arab and African immigrants whom she accuses of threatening European culture. Traditionally confined to the margins of European politics, such comments buoyed by Trump’s election, are now almost mainstream.

But unlike in the United States, a clear majority of the population in France still reject those claims supported by “alternative facts” and hatred rhetoric. Le Pen will likely suffer a large defeat in the second round of the French presidential elections regardless of her opponent. An academic resistance is starting to hold ground in front of a simplistic propaganda which does not hold water. Over the last few months, one of the bestsellers in French bookstores was a history textbook edited by Patrick Boucheron, a renowned professor at the College de France. The World History of France makes a strong case to debunk the nationalist glorification of an “Eternal France” whose greatness would allegedly result from keeping foreigners at bay from battles to battles.

In truth, Charles Martel never stopped the Umayyad Caliphate in Poitiers in the 8th century. The Free French rebirth under De Gaulle took ground in Northern Africa, not in London. The Francs people - who gave their name to the country - came from Hungary and French history repeatedly benefitted from immigration (from Spain, Portugal, Italy…) rather than suffer from it. Hopefully this reaction and intellectual spurt is not too little too late. This year’s election will prove whether the French population can be wiser than the Americans and reject the simplistic and flawed narrative of an extreme right that would lead to its demise.