Opinion: France Is Headed Towards Its Most Feral Right-Wing Regime Since the Nazis

PARIS—The French political system, casually referred to as the “Republic of Friends,” is in the throes of one of its humiliating nervous breakdowns.

Now, a few weeks before an estimated 15 million baffled visitors, 10,500 bemused athletes and more than 1 billion bewildered TV viewers tune into Paris for the Summer Olympics, there’s an odds-on chance the government will be run by the sort of feral right-wing regime not seen in France since the Vichy administration ruled the country in cahoots with the Nazis between 1940 and 1944.

Time and nostalgia are a double-edged sword in France. What ended here 80 years ago with 567,600 corpses has been resurrected with such fiendish intensity that President Emmanuel Macron immediately drew a line in the sand, scheduling needless legislative elections on June 30 and July 7.

The Eiffel Tower is no longer the center of attention.

Is Paris Burning? No, but Macron’s surprise call to the ballot box has ignited the most ruthless firestorm I’ve witnessed during my 35 years living here. In the event you dropped French class to avoid wrestling the language’s 21 verb tenses, the most important linguistic law in the land of Brigitte Bardot, Léa Seydoux and Paul Cézanne is that the French, in principle, rarely distinguish between fact and impression.

“France is a relatively small and eternally quarrelsome country, fountainhead of political manias, militarily impotent, historically inglorious during the past century, democratically bankrupt, communist-infiltrated from top to bottom,” was how William F. Buckley Jr., the French-speaking intellectual father of the Conservative cause, described the place.

Buckley, like all visitors, loved the grub, but remained suspicious of an electorate that’s grown into 50 million registered voters who reflect 99 separate political persuasions that we in the media for convenience identify as individual political parties.

Guillaume Bigot poses for a portrait

Guillaume Bigot

Eric Fougere/Getty Images

Three of France’s rump ideologies (let’s tag them center-left, center-right and center) have imperially managed the country alone or as a majestic ensemble for the past eight decades, each one altering their party’s official name with the regularity of a parent who only changes a toddler’s diaper when it stinks. Outside France, these clean ups—calculated to make the public forget the previous stench and usher a new generation into fragrance-free voting booths—are normally boring, perfunctory and less combative than serving a croissant baked by the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Thanks to social media, youth unemployment, an uptick in asylum seekers, ballooning energy prices and oodles of nationalist right-wing cash, Macron is no longer the only politician with the regal ability to play Jupiter on TV. There are now a record 4,005 candidates running in the first round, with many fabled divinities to choose from.

One of the new godlings is the extreme-right parliamentary candidate Guillaume Bigot, doppelgänger of the fascist leader Marine Le Pen. The aptly named Bigot over the years has accused his ideological rivals of being a “menopausal Greta Thunberg” and an “expert in wet T-shirt competitions,” respectively.

“I’m here and I intend to stay,” Bigot bullied.

It’s true, he isn’t going away. Macron and his echo chamber of Béni Oui-Oui (Yes Men) called the snap parliamentary vote because the collective right clobbered their friends in the recent European parliamentary elections. Under the 70-year-old ham-fisted management by the Le Pen family and their freshly minted 28-year-old TikTok superstar stuntman Jordan Bardella, France’s collective right wing finished first in 93 percent of the country’s 36,000 villages, towns and cities.

Yet the bigots of France are different from their relatives in America and elsewhere. Le Pen and her collaborators are descendants of the jacqueries, 14th-century peasant gangs who terrified Paris, burning, looting, raping women and torturing babies. The political turbulence, further fueled by the French Revolution, never really dissipated and eventually rematerialized as the strikes, boycotts, road barriers and car burnings that cause France Tourism Development Agency officials to hallucinate.

“Our ancestors beheaded a king for doing far less than those masturbators, fags, phonies and piles of shit are doing today,” the far-right’s revered forefather and 1956 Time magazine cover boy Pierre Poujade told his congregates. “After the Liberation they closed all the brothels in France except the biggest one—the National Assembly.”

French football megastar Kylian Mbappé, currently playing in the European Championships in Germany, has asked his legions of fans to exorcize the country’s primal demons and refuse to ratify the malignant history of fanaticism in France.

“I’m calling to vote against extremists that want to divide the country,” said the new Real Madrid recruit. “I don’t want to represent a country that doesn’t represent my values.”

But the war-whooping from Le Pen’s camp clearly indicates that violence is in the air. “The people who govern us and who hope to buy appeasement at the price of dishonor will reap both dishonor and civil war!” is how Bigot’s pinned Tweet describes the ideology he wants to bring to France’s 577-member parliament.

Gassing Jews is apparently back in vogue. “Gas rendered justice to the victims of the Shoah,” enthused ultra-right candidate Joseph Martin.

When asked about Martin’s position, National Rally boss Bardella refused to remove his man from the ballot.

And then there’s this.

The celebrated Nazi hunter and French moral beacon Serge Klarsfeld recently went on TV to defend Le Pen’s party, which counts among its founders a former Nazi paramilitary soldier and Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who got his start bushwhacking minorities as Poujade’s bodyguard.

This way for the gas chambers, ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps the American political lyricist H.L. Mencken was dead-on: The costliest of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. Indeed, the polls indicate Le Pen’s awkward and aggrieved racist coalition—along with the inventively loony left-wing anti-Israel alliance dubbed the New Popular Front—is positioned to form a government that could defenestrate Macron’s Ensemble! coalition in the 2027 presidential election.

“The National Rally supports Jews, supports the state of Israel,” Klarsfeld said. “When there is an anti-Jewish party and a pro-Jewish party, I will vote for the pro-Jewish party,” the 88-year-old said, explaining how a historian of the Holocaust could fall into line behind a party with such a wretched past.

Emmanuel Macron seen through a window speaking to advisors

President Emmanuel Macron speaks with advisers inside the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on June 20, 2024.

Ludovic Marin/Getty Images

The French malaise, known locally as inquiétude, is back in vengeance, and Macron is determined to obliterate those he sees as gormless vigilantes seeking to leech votes from the public’s dissatisfaction, regardless of the political cost. If the National Rally and its mish-mash of candidates emerge as the largest party, as the polls suggest, Macron might be boxed into appointing a prime minister from the Le Pen camp, probably Bardella.

“With the resurgence of fascism around the world, immediate actions must be taken to protect democracy, economic stability, individual rights and the global order, as imperfect as it might be,” is how long-time Democratic Party political and policy adviser Peter Emerson in Washington soberly decodes Macron’s provocative gambit to launch an unanticipated snap election as a full-frontal attack against Le Pen.

Emerson reckons the biggest motivation behind Macron’s surprise move was money; specifically, France’s 154-billion-euro deficit and 3 trillion euros of debt. If elected, both political extremes say they’ll greatly increase spending money the French Treasury doesn’t have. The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s gulped and, earlier this month, downgraded France as the risk of political instability rises. Moody’s is considering a similar demotion in the coming weeks.

“I do not intend to hand the keys of power to the extreme right in 2027,” Macron, who is term limited, blustered, referring to the next presidential election.

But the polls indicate voters don’t give a hoot what Macron, fretting Olympic officials or Wall Street hedge funders think. All the samplings pretty much agree the public has no interest in reining in the deficit. Macron is running a distant third going into the first round, with Le Pen’s populist federation ultimately positioned to score between 225 and 250 seats in the National Assembly. The magic number for a fascist majority is 289.

And yet the president still won’t brand the lady and her cronies fascists. “President Macron would never suggest that of Marine Le Pen,” an Élysée Palace insider scoffs. He prefers to use the more gentle and euphemistic “far-right demagogue.” Macron also warned that a far-left or far-right victory in the legislative election “pushes people towards civil war,” he said, adding that policies “reduce people to their religion or their origin.”

And with the self-confidence of a 3-star Michelin chef staring into a tub of rancid Normandy butter, Macron served up a primetime TV performance seasoned with Francité, the untranslatable, otherworldly ingredient that makes everything from a ubiquitous 20 cent wedge of Laughing Cow cheese to a $35,000 Hermès Birkin Bag indefinably desirable.

“To be French is to rise to the challenge of the epoch when necessary,” Macron told the country. “It’s to know what a vote is worth and how liberty feels; to act, whatever the circumstances, with responsibility is fundamentally to write history rather than be its victim. That moment is now.”

The moment was also reminiscent of a close encounter of the Francité kind I had in 2001 with French President Jacques Chirac at an award ceremony in the Élysée Palace salon named after King Louis XV’s chief mistress.

“I’m genetically void of Francité and adamantly refuse to distinguish between masculine and feminine nouns,” I told Chirac as we paced Madame de Pompadour’s bedroom. “So why have you made me a chevalier in the French Order of Arts and Letters? Another one of your bureaucratic blunders?”

Chirac guffawed. “You comprehend French sensibilities,” he explained, recalling the time he called his own snap election believing opinion polls that said his party would win. “You said that France is the only democracy where it’s the voters who consistently lie to the politicians, and you are correct.”

Macron is gambling that’s true.

This post was originally published on Daily Beast

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