As may know, France is going to the polls tomorrow to elect a new president. They have a choice between an unaffiliated centrist, Emmanuel Macron, and an unavowed fascist, Marine le Pen.
I am not French, but my wife is, and my children have a number citizenships among which French is one they all share. Aside from that, the stakes for the French election are much higher than they were for the Dutch elections, a few months ago, and arguably even for the American presidential election last November.
Let me explain those assertions.
First, the American elections: the United States of America has a federal constitution that has built-in checks and balances and a general distrust of the executive branch of government. That means there is only so much the president can do without the express consent of Congress and without judicial oversight. Yes, he can make a mess of things and he can do a lot of damage, but his power is limited by a system that is designed keep him in check. Trump’s attempts to undo Obama’s legacy are a good example this: the House of Representatives may have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act yesterday, but it took them three tries to get this far and there’s still a long way for the bill to become a law. Trump’s executive orders are another good example: I can’t count the number times his immigration orders have been overturned by the judiciary. So while Trump represents a danger to global stability in both economics and peace, he can’t do all that much by himself.
The Dutch elections, which one might expect I would be affected by because I’m Dutch, are almost insignificant outside of the Netherlands: the Dutch political system is built on centuries of compromise, and elections always result in coalitions. There was a next to zero chance that the populist Geert Wilders would become prime minister, even if his party had become the largest party in Parliament — which it didn’t get even close to. Even if that had happened: in the parallel universe where Geert Wilders is prime minister of the Netherlands, everything he tries to do still has to go through Parliament, where there is no choice but to compromise.
There is no compromise in French politics, and there are checks and balances: the constitution of the fifth republic was written for a strong-man president. The president of France is elected and expected to be a strong leader, unopposed by the National Assembly and immune from many types of prosecution while office. He the leader of the land, Chief of the army, untethered by such things as judicial oversight.
I exaggerate, but only a little.
The elected president France can remove France from NATO, of which it is a founding member, from the European monetary union, from the European economic union, and from many other cooperative treaties France is a part of.
France is the fifth largest economy in the world. French is spoken on every continent and France is on the United Nations Security Council. The reason for European Union to exist is to avoid another world war from starting in Europe. A lot of this hinges on the will of one person: the president of the French republic.
The text I quoted in my nine tweets is from a song by Louis Chedid, called “Anne, my sister Anne”. It’s a lamentation about state of politics addressed to Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who hid in a house in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during the second world war, and who was ultimately betrayed and died in a concentration camp.
It translates roughly to “If I could tell you what I see coming: it’s like a nightmare. You may have thought, when you were writing your diary hidden in your closet, that we’d never forget but… we’re forgetful! The nostalgic Nazis are coming out their holes with their swastikas, their spiked boots, and everything. It’s the historic hysteria all over again: the same speeches, the same slogans, the same barking. I’d like to be able to tell you, little martyr, that you can rest easy and the vermin won’t come back, but there’s too much indifference, too much unwanted patience for these old damned, the deja-vu. Much too much indulgence and good manners for these nostalgic Nazis coming out of their holes.”