Many analysts have noted the ideological affinities between Trump and Marine Le Pen the far right National Front candidate for the upcoming election. Although their speaking style and orator’s skills are different, the key similarity is the total rhetorical dishonesty that they resort to in order to hoodwink the working classes. Both Trump and Le Pen promote a kind of social xenophobia promising the losers of globalization a better future if immigrants and racialized others are deported, controlled or marginalized. For the working class, Trump and Le Pen sell the same snake oil: they reduce complex economic mechanisms to a simplistic xenophobic explanation.
Trump in his usual simplistic rhetoric promised jobs, jobs, jobs to ordinary workers and once elected proceeded to cozy up to Wall Street, notably Goldman Sachs. The huge tax cuts he promised business will inevitably damage the well being of ordinary people who depend on functioning social services for a decent life. His key argument for job creation is the erection of a wall between Mexico and the US, a wall that, in fact, already partially exists but is presented as a magical solution to economic problems. Contrary to left-liberal critics of free trade who argue for a more just trade, Trump sells xenophobia and anti-Mexican hysteria as a solution.
Le Pen targets immigrants who in France today are often Muslims, another similarity with the U.S. president. Like her father she is selling the crude notion that the number of immigrants is similar to the number of unemployed people so if the former group is kicked out the latter group will find jobs and security. The economy operates along different lines and this “solution” could only compound economic woes.
The likely voters of Le Pen, like the voters for Trump in the Rust Belt, will not benefit from the social-xenophobic policies promoted by the far right. In both the U.S. and France many workers, who were indeed the forgotten men and women of globalization, believe that voting for a far right candidate is like “throwing a Molotov cocktail” (Michael Moore) at what is called in France “the system”.
A huge group of people are indeed marginalized and in dire straits after more than 30 years of neoliberal reforms and the offshoring of manufacturing jobs. Traditional parties have not found ways of ensuring a decent standard of living to the people William Julius Wilson the American sociologist calls the “truly disadvantaged”, those that are according to French political scientist Thomas Guénolé suffering from “unhappy globalization”. Their anger is legitimate but far right demagogues have kidnapped it. Instead of targeting those that Sanders aptly calls the “billionaire class” many have fallen for simplistic xenophobic or racist pseudo-explanations.
In the same way that the rightward shift of the Democrats, who came to prefer the donor class to the working class, promoted the rise of discontent among the marginalized in the US,(read Thomas Frank) the social-liberal policies of the nominally Socialist party triggered alienation and a desire to break up the whole “system” in France. The neoliberals have acted like Frankenstein and created the far right monster that they cannot control now. Ironically, and tragically, the neoliberals offer themselves as a protection against the monster they have created or nourished.
In both the U.S. and France there is a left alternative. Sanders in the U.S. had the right mix of proposals: pro-workers but also in favor of gender and race equality, he targeted the source of real power and his opposition to so-called free trade and globalization was based on a principle of justice. In France, the left and the greens are in disarray, disunited and unlikely to be present at the second round of the lection in May. So as in the U.S. the election is likely to oppose a far right demagogue to a less evil neoliberal.
The gender issue is different for in France the far right demagogue is a woman whereas in the U.S. the neoliberal candidate was Hilary Clinton. This however is probably not a major difference for French feminists are unimpressed by Le Pen and workers who want to destroy the “system” are unlikely to object to a woman representing them. What is common between Trump and Le Pen is also rhetorical or real violence.
Trump talked about shooting someone on 5th avenue, he called on 2d amendment people to do something about Clinton, he mocked a journalist with disabilities and violence erupted during his meetings. He clearly sides with the police against Black Lives Matter when young African men are killed. Le Pen has softened the hyper violent rhetoric of her party, the rhetoric her father favored yet everywhere the National Front has power in small towns there is violence, verbal violence in municipal government meetings, symbolic violence against immigrant groups and cultural institutions.
After Trump’s election physical violence erupted in many places, anti-Semitism which seemed to have disappeared in the U.S. raised its ugly head and, of course, anti-Muslim rhetoric flourished, with the “Muslim ban” but also in the public sphere. The reaction of cooperation between Jews and Muslims is a very hopeful sign in a depressing situation. Jews invited Muslims to prey in a synagogue after their mosque was destroyed by fire in Texas.
Le Pen decided to soften the image of her party which was overtly anti-Semitic when her father led it and made terrible jokes about Jews and the Holocaust. She, like Trump, has made overtures toward right wing Israeli groups though the anti-Semites around her have not disappeared. Like Trump, she peddles Islamophobia to curry favor with extremist Jewish groups. Yet in the same way as the KKK and David Duke hail the new chief in the White House in spite of his widely touted closeness with the Israeli Prime Minister, Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric covers up a latent anti-Semitism among some supporters. Erasing the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the National Front was a tactical move.
After the U.S. election Le Pen traveled to the Trump tower though she was not invited by Trump whose knowledge of Europe is so sketchy that he once confused France and Germany (and of Sweden he knows only the non-existent terror attacks). Le Pen obviously hopes she will benefit from a Trump effect. Trump’s violence and vulgar behavior are no obstacles, on the contrary.
Trump is a disaster not only for the U.S. but also for the whole world. His decisions on the environment and military expenditures will have a global impact. Le Pen, if unfortunately she were elected, would not have such a global impact though her election would cause social chaos in France and be very destructive in Europe. They are both destroyers of democracy, wreckers of the concept of checks and balances and they talk as if they were above the law.
American civil society is showing that resistance is strong in the U.S. and we hope there will not be a manipulation of the 1933 Reichstag fire type in America. In France protecting democracy will mean doing everything to stop Le Pen from winning the election. This might mean voting for a neoliberal though the Frankenstein danger has not disappeared. In the long run the legitimate anger of the losers of globalization will have to be dealt with, maybe along Swedish social justice lines or Sanders approaches. Rhetoric alone cannot stop the authoritarians, deep policy changes are needed.