Stanescu-Bellu: Au Revoir, Établissement

The French presidential election is a death knell for establishment politics.

by Sofia Stanescu-Bellu | 4/27/17 12:15am

You probably haven’t paid attention to the French presidential election. I wouldn’t blame you. We have enough political turmoil here without worrying about issues across the Atlantic. Yet the effects of the election in France will have a substantial impact on the politics worldwide and already the election has changed the way Europeans approach and view politics.

The French have many electorally viable political parties. The first round of the presidential election is a free-for-all, with the two candidates with the most votes advancing to a runoff if there is no first-round majority. This year, following Sunday’s first round, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National party, and Emmanuel Macron, who leads En Marche!, a progressive, centrist coalition, remain in the race for president.

Le Pen is a right-wing populist who, while trying to shed the Front National’s far-right image, has maintained controversial positions on important issues. She has condemned hijabs, yarmulkes and Sikh turbans as well as the construction of mosques, threatened to withdraw France from the Eurozone and has close ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Le Pen tweeted congratulations to then president-elect Donald Trump before any other major foreign political candidate — in the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016.

Macron worked as an investment banker for Rothschild & Cie Banque early in his career, joined current President François Hollande’s cabinet as economy minister then broke away to found his own party in 2016. Macron is a staunch supporter of the European Union and has proposed transformative economic policies. He has promised to block a ban on hijabs in French schools, enforce gender equality and cut corporate income taxes. However, he has struggled to present himself as a candidate of substance rather than just a palatable centrist alternative to Le Pen. Although most of the other candidates have endorsed Macron as he heads into the second round, recent history shows that an establishment-endorsed candidate can turn out on the losing side.

So why does this matter? First, both candidates are very unconventional. This shouldn’t be a shock after numerous countries have elected — or nearly elected — populist leaders, and British voters opted to exit the European Union. Yet while the unconventional nature of the candidates isn’t surprising, ignoring it is a mistake. The French election is another sign of the changing nature of politics. The status quo candidates with years of experience in government and views on the safer side, very much in line with conventional party platforms, is disappearing. We now see the entry of radical politicians and newcomers that are shaking up politics.

These new leaders are appealing to parts of the population that were previously ignored and forgotten but have a great deal of electoral sway. These segments of the population can act as the force to swing the election in a candidate’s favor, and the tide so far has been flowing in the direction of nationalism and populism.

In the Dartmouth bubble, foreign affairs sometimes don’t seem real — they feel like events happening worlds away that don’t impact us. However, our time at Dartmouth is limited. As adults who will be living in this new world with its volatile and mercurial political landscape, it is important to remain aware of these changes and the impact they can have on our lives. Sure, France is in Europe, and the Franco-American relationship is — at least culturally — not always warm, but regardless of which candidate wins, the results of the French election will have a huge economic and social impact on everyday life around the globe. What the election represents — an overthrowing of the old guard and the embracing of new, extreme viewpoints — will shape the world for decades to come.

So rather than scrolling past that New York Times or Wall Street Journal article about the French election in your Facebook newsfeed, take a few minutes to read it. Remain informed and engaged, because ignorance is no longer bliss; ignorance leads to violence. Ignorance leads to a destruction of the world as you know it.