Le Pen is a far-right Holocaust revisionist. Macron isn’t. Hard choice?
Is being an investment banker analogous with being a Holocaust revisionist? Is neoliberalism on a par with neofascism? Apologies if the answers to these questions are so obviously in the affirmative to you – they certainly seem to be for some people – but I must admit to confusion about certain reactions when the centre-left and pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron beat the far-right and feverishly Islamophobic Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French election on Sunday. On Monday night Le Pen “temporarily” stepped down as head of the Front National, an acknowledgment that her own party’s toxically racist legacy, to which she and her family are wholly tied, is a bit de trop for mainstream voters in the final straight of this election. Others, however, saw a different problem.
Marine Le Pen steps aside from Front National leadership
The hard-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has, as yet, refused to endorse Macron. This is because he needs – in a move that further reduces the hard-left to its own self-parody – to consult the wishes of his supporters first. Yes, that’s right, he absolutely must have a collective debate about whether or not to endorse the candidate who has, as two of her closest advisers, associates of an unrepentant former SS member. Way to maintain the socialist dream!
Similarly, soon enough after the result was announced my social media feeds were filled with world-weary sighs, from both the left and the right . “I’d now vote Macron – VERY reluctantly,” one respected political commentator wrote. Others echoed the sentiment: did people know Macron worked in investment banking? That he’s a Blairite? That he is an elitist insider whereas Le Pen is surely better placed to surf the trend for outsiders?
That last take on the French election, one reflected by the Monday front pages of both the Daily Mail and the Times in this country, was the most obviously idiotic, given that Le Pen comes from a political dynasty built on the tenacious foundation of antisemitism, racism and fascism. But I’d like to talk a little about the distaste for Macron on the left, members of which would doubtless insist that Macron is NOT centre-left. But those of us who listened in despair last year to American friends loftily declare there was no substantive difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been here before. Clinton was “more dangerous” than Trump, I believe: how’s that statement holding up for you, Susan Sarandon?
How lovely it must be to be able to care more about ideological purity than the genuine threat of actual fascism. How delicious it must be to burrow down luxuriantly in one’s own rigid moral certainties because you will not suffer the real effects of the worst-case scenario. You can instead self-indulgently focus on details instead of staring fearfully at the bigger picture.
Others, though, cannot. I know a little about the effects of fascism in France. My grandmother, her three brothers, their mother and cousins lived in Paris in the 30s. My grandmother managed to get out in time, reluctantly moving to the US just before the war and leaving behind her fiance who was soon killed. Of her three brothers, two were sent to the camps where one was murdered and from which another escaped. Her oldest brother hid in his apartment throughout the war but was shopped to the authorities three times by his French neighbours – each time, through miraculous interventions, he escaped. A cousin paid someone to row him and his wife to Spain; the boatman took their money and drowned them, orphaning two children. I knew one of those children when he was an adult, and sadness always hung over him. As it did all of the surviving members of my French family, including my grandmother.
It’s considered a bit much to play the ol’ Holocaust card (I keep it in my back pocket, next to my woman card), especially when talking about politics, and particularly when talking about Le Pen, the daughter of a Holocaust denier. But she herself decided to play this round of the game earlier this month, when she insisted that the Vichy regime “was not France”, an approach to history that redefines the term “selective”. She added that the 1942 Vel d’Hiv round-up, when 13,000 Jews were rounded up in Paris, wasn’t the responsibility of France. (Spoiler! It was, and, in fact, the French police rounded up Jewish children, which the Nazis hadn’t even asked them to do.)
So forgive me if I can’t quite join in on this nose-holding approach to Macron, but some of us can imagine all too easily a France under the sway of a fascist leader, and what the costs of that would be. Sure, criticise Macron’s policies, but to rail against him because of your ideological idea of who he is – a banker, an insider – is the definition of decadence. Lucky you that you aren’t terrified about who – and what – he is running against.
A week before the US election David Sedaris wrote about undecided American voters, and he compared them to passengers on a plane being presented with their meal options: “‘Can I interest you in the chicken?’ [the flight attendant] asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?’ To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”
Those are the options in this election now, and they are options everyone who remembers the US election will have seen on the menu before. When an election comes down to a binary choice you are not just voting for someone but against someone else, and when you start carping about the chicken, you are validating the shit. Get over yourself. Eat the chicken.