Can the US election save Europe.
Since 1805 and Nelson’s victory Trafalgar, the UK lived on the periphery of European politics. The 23 miles of turbulent and volatile Channel waters allowed it to focus on its Empire elsewhere.
On the mainland the story has been very different. There France and Germany have remained perennial adversaries. Aspiring to outreach each other -each resenting the other’s achievements as much as they obsessed about them. Envious of the British, both cultivated wannabe empires of their own. Germany invaded modern day Namibia at the end of the 19th century; France since Napoleon had long held interests in North Africa and the sub Sahara.
In both cases the primal impulse was to gain living space for their own citizens and to maximize the opportunity for cheap labor. The German occupation, initially instigated by Goring’s father led to the concentration camps and genocide of Namibia’s early peoples*. It led too to the brown shirts of Hitler’s supporters. The legacy of France’s Empire was still violently with them with the Algerian freedom fighters of De Gaulle’s presidency. Some histories may well be best forgotten. But in today’s polarizing politics collective amnesia is not an option. Both Germany and France suffered more terrible racist experiences in the horrors of their ante Semitism of the second World War. The aftermath is with us to this day in the current soul searching over the challenge presented respectively by “gastarbeiter” and “ensauvagement”. And these challenges remain today up front and in your face as both great nations battle with the emerging cracks in their economic recoveries and the shock of the pandemic. But now they are coming to a head.
To focus today on France – that most beautiful of countries and Paris, the loveliest of capital cities and for so long the cultural center of the world.
As the summer vacation ends, France’s corona virus cases are surging. New school terms, a public return to work and the nation’s recently precarious economy is about to be hamstrung. The debate will now center on how to minimize the damage via Presidential action whilst a vaccine is discovered. Unemployment will rise as tourism is threatened.
But this is not just the background to a simple albeit potentially catastrophic set of challenges. This is the start of a campaign for the soul of France and the heart of western democracy. The unresolved pandemic and systemic unemployment overlay today the populist appeal of the fascist National Rally party led by Marie Le Pen. “Ensauvagement” is part of a new and sick coded language that refers to the young, vulnerable and desperate youths, immigrants from the even greater havoc of North Africa – long to our shame, the ignored war games play ground of the world’s populist despots. France is a nation at risk. Right wing magazines write openly of a new barbarism, of black lawlessness and of savages threatening the nation. In fact crime rates have not risen, but populist demagogues have never concerned themselves much with the truth and yesterday’s political psyche has been blind to the gathering storm. Yesterday’s politicians preferred the comfort and ease of superficial thought rather than face the brutal facts and challenge of the hard yards to reclaim a fair society. “There are no savages in France,” said a law maker in Parliament recently – “only citizens.”
But the door is open to a new harsh story of racial xenophobia. If France is dealing with savages, so the story runs, then it is legitimate in the name of law and order to use violent means to deal with them.
President Macron’s term ends in 2022. His campaign may have to move to the right to counter Marie le Pen, who so nearly won last time out. For her the current trends of hatred are the bracing replacement of refreshed blood to a sick invalid. France is in fact facing its own special crisis, a concatenation of inevitable economic challenge, the growing menace of the pandemic’s autumn return and the subliminal fears of a nation looking for a scapegoat, someone to blame and rage against.
Here in America 4000 miles and a language away, France’s troubles seem distant ones. But the outcome of the next 60 days here is taking on an international significance far beyond the daily reach of most of our US citizens and we should steel our resolve the more because of this. . It is essential that November 3 sees the nation start over, and that we walk out of the present slide into despotism for our own sakes. It is no less vial that we, as the world’s democratic lead, provide a much needed example, thought leadership and support for France and western Europe. Absent such a lead we may be about to witness the unwinding of western rational democracy that could take place within our own life time and under our own watch.
Have a good day, James.
- “The Kaiser’s holocaust” Olusoga and Erichsen.