Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Did You Think the Devil Would Look like the Devil?

You got to hand it to Marine Le Pen but she stands out by looking good. Unlike Trump in the USA, you don’t find anyone talking about how she’s artificially enhanced herself (Orange Tan) nor does she exaggerate things about herself (think the hair of Trump or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands). Every shot of Ms. Le Pen is well thought out. She looks elegant and when she speaks, she is well spoken and on the surface sounds exceedingly reasonable. While Ms. Le Pen is past the age of being a “sex-bomb” she could easily pass off as someone you could consider growing old with.

Unfortunately, everything that I’ve just said is precisely what makes her perhaps the most dangerous of all the demagogues who have risen to prominence on the global political stage. While people like Mr. Trump in the USA or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are larger than life characters who make outrageously outlandish statements about this and that, Ms. Le Pen is attractively normal and sane.

As much as I dislike Donald Trump, I give him credit for being able to stir passions and to get people talking. Some of my blog post have been Trump inspired and I’m not alone. While Mr. Trump may rile against the media, his very rise to the presidency has been exceedingly good for the media, especially the newspaper business, which has been facing something of a decline.

Mr. Trump had a genius for saying things that upset or emboldened people. If you consider the fact that we live in an age where people around the world are pissed off with the way things are, Mr. Trump managed to push all the right buttons by riling us up against the things we were pissed off by. I like to think of voting for Mr. Trump and his policies as going for a binge drink because you hard day. Dealing with Mr. Trump’s attempts to run the country is the hangover that you get from binge drinking.

To be fair to Mr. Trump, he is what he is. His message is vile and his delivery is just as bad as his message. You could call Mr. Trump a rabid dog that you bring home just to piss off the rest of the family. A rabid dog is obviously rabid and anyone who touches it without gloves is pretty much responsible for whatever happens to them.

Ms. Marine Le Pen is a different kettle of fish. If Mr. Trump is a rabid dog, Ms. Le Pen is the loveable pooch that you bring home because you think that she’s going to make the kids happy. Then, once you’ve brought her home, she attacks everyone who tries to visit you and pisses all over the furniture.

This is precisely something Ms. Le Pen has devoted her political life to doing. Her predecessor as President of the National Front, her father John-Marie Le Pen was one of Europe’s crazy racist politicians, who was right wing to the extreme and proudly racist (he once promised to deport France’s winning football team because they were of Arab and Negro decent).

Le Pen senior said outrageous things and he was a rabid dog. While he had an appeal to certain segments of society, the majority would never have voted for him because – well would you give the car keys to a rabid dog? The old man managed to stir strong emotions, while 22 percent of people in France had a favourable view of him, 63 percent had an unfavorable opinion of him. You’re talking about a man who was accused of torturing people during the Algerian Wars and was persecuted for assaulting someone (note – Mr. Le Pen actually got involved in the doing of awful things, unlike Mr. Trump who talks about it).

Mr. Le Pen had one fluke back in the 2002 Presidential Election, when he made it passed the first round, beating the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. The French electorate quickly came to their senses and ensured that Jacques Chirac (Not known for being the most honest of politicians) had a crushing victory.

Ms. Le Pen understood that the harsh far-right policies of the National Front made them unvoteable and has devoted her life to “De-demonizing” the party. Today’s National Front is not the “anti-Semitic” talk shop that it used to be. The “softer” image of the National Front under Ms. Le Pen has made it vote-able. In the 2011-2012 Presidential Election, she managed to come in third behind Nicholas Sarkozy and Francoise Hollande and ended up with more votes than her father did in his best showing of the 2002 election.

Today, Ms. Le Pen enters the second round of the Presidential Election with a very realistic of becoming the next French President. In 2002, when her father made it past the first round, it was a sign that the election would go to Jacques Chirac. Today, Ms. Le Pen trails her rival by a mere two percent in the polls and given that her rival is an inexperienced outsider, her chances are realistic.
How did she do it? The English comedian John Oliver says, “She has dangerously normalized the National Front.” People who would never have voted for her father because they thought he was a crazy old man, have happily voted for her. In many ways, her father was easier. He was a devil that who looked like the devil – admitting anything positive about him was an endorsement of being a racist thug.

Ms. Le Pen is different and more dangerous. Papa Le Pen was obviously the worst in us and in rational moments, we would never want him around us in a bar let alone in the seat of power in one of the world’s biggest economies. His daughter by contrast has made it such that we find that thinking at worst is perfectly normal.

If you look and listen carefully to Ms. Le Pen, you’ll realise that her message is essentially the same – racist, protectionist and nasty. Yet, its packaged better. You’ll never catch Ms. Le Pen saying revolting things like the Holocaust is a “mere detail of history.” But she’ll convince you, a well-educated person, that it’s perfectly normal to hate black, brown and yellow people.

The other area where Ms. Le Pen presents a danger is the fact that she has a reasonable image of competence. Mr. Trump made his inexperience in politics an electable strength and glossed over his business failures. However, once in power, the Trump administration has proven to be spectacularly incoherent.

By contrast, Ms. Le Pen has succeeded in running her party and instead of citing mad ideologues like Steve Bannon as an inspiration, Ms. Le Pen has paid tribute to credible people like the late 1988 Nobel Laureate, Maurice Allais. It makes her less frightening to a rational person, which in turn should make her terrifying.

We live in an age of instants. We like instant food, instant gratification and instant information. On one hand, we should celebrate technology and the way it makes life easier. On the other, we should worry that life isn’t encouraging us to think and analyze. Anyone with a brain cell should be able to recognize the faults of a Donald Trump. His appeal may resonate with some. He may touch us at the right moment, when we’re feeling down. However, a right-thinking person will see that Trump’s message is essentially faulty and in many ways, morally wrong. He is an obvious snake oil salesman who sells by bringing out the worst in us.

Ms. Le Pen is more frightening because she isn’t obvious. Instead of getting us to do something for the heck of it, she slowly persuades us to think that out worst qualities are actually perfectly normal.  Whether she wins or loses this election, she has already done damage by making the worst instincts in any society normal and acceptable. I can only pray that the French electorate prove more sensible than the British and American ones and reject her at the polls. A racist thug in a pretty face is still a racist thug.