First we had Brexit. Then we had Trump. Now, will there be a Frexit?
Marine Le Pen, a now prominent French political leader is taking to the polls in a campaign for the upcoming French presidential elections. Considering there are currently only 18 female world leaders, it would be nice to add another to the group. But taking into account Le Pen’s controversial background, this would be less of a victory for women and more of a step backwards for humanity.
To give you a sense of Le Pen’s populist views, she recently told reporters, “The division is no longer between the right and the left, but between patriots and [believers in] globalization.”
Le Pen is just one part of a growing trend seeking a return to nationalism that has many hard consequences – particularly for vulnerable populations that make for easy targets. Here’s what you need to know about France’s next potential president.
Le Pen Isn’t ‘Of the People,’ She Grew Up In The Political Spotlight
Contrary to her populist platform, Marine Le Pen is very privileged and grew up in a prominent political family.
Le Pen was the youngest daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s first marriage. Jean Marie was a prominent far-right figure in France. He founded a populist party called Front National forty-four years ago. The party was fundamentally opposed to the European Union, is anti-immigration (particularly immigrants from Africa), and is interested in boosting French national born rights over foreign born or immigrant nationalists. The party also has historically carried strong ties to anti-semetic groups and for a long time, were considered to be Holocaust denialists.
Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, was extremely dedicated to his work and perhaps just as vehemently hated by the populace. Because of this, Marine’s childhood was marred by drama, including death threats to her father that forced her to leave school and go into hiding for months. One instance even included a bomb that was placed at her family’s home and was meant to kill all of them.
Her family’s intimate life was also the cause of media frenzy, most notably when her mother left her father for the biographer writing his memoir. Le Pen did not speak to her mother for 15 years after that incident.
Although Le Pen’s childhood was not without it’s hurdles, Marine’s platform of being ‘of the common French person’ is more than misleading. Like Donald Trump, she had little economic hurdles or lack of political connections throughout her life. But unlike Donald, European critiques hail her as being less crazy version of the American leader.
She single handily moved the Front National Party into mainstream French culture by overthrowing her father
Le Pain’s interest in politics grew in the 1980s, when she went to work for her father’s campaign. She stated in a 2006 interview that because he was constantly working, going campaigning with him was the only opportunity she had to get to know him more (if you speak French, you can watch that interview here).
Le Pain continued her interest in politics, eventually obtaining her degree in law and working in the field up until her appointment into the Front National in 1998.
She eventually went on to take the party leadership away from her father in 2011 – distancing its historic, hate-driven radicalism into a more subdued form of right-wing politics (think Reagan’s war on drugs and the rising mass incarceration rate – both are about race, but use high-level catch phrases to avoid overt racism). This distancing included ridding the party of those who upheld overt-hate driven rhetoric, including her father and many of his older allies.
For his part, Jean-Marie did not go without a fight. He continues to show up on stage at Front National rallies (completely uninvited), has told the press he would not vote for his daughter in the upcoming elections and demanded his daughter change her last name. Le Pen’s last visit to Jean-Marie’s house involved his dobermans mauling her cat to death. French politicians don’t play.
Brexit, Trump and Le Pen Are Part of Rise In Global Populism
Le Pen’s run for presidency marks another national election in which a populist group within a major Western country has the potential to move into national power.
The first example of this came with Brexit last year, when the U.K. unexpectedly voted itself out of the European Union. Donald Trump hailed the next populist uprising, with his unexpected electoral victory last November. Now, several countries including Holland and France are seeing what Europe has dubbed “The Trump Effect” – a growing trend demanding a return to national isolationist policies and protections.
Nearly ten years after the economic crash, France still suffers from a 10% unemployment rate. Additionally, 234 people have died from terrorist attacks in the last 18 months. Both of these experiences have caused a rise in isolationist policies and pro-nationalist sentiment.
Le Pen’s campaign slogan was a promise of “French Freedom.” Alongside this slogan was a commitment to 144 action items Le Pen would complete if voted into office. These items include everything from reversing LGBTQ marriage rights back to civil ceremonies only, to reserving free education solely for French citizens.
Last December, Le Pen stated, “If you come to our country, don’t expect to be taken care of, to be looked after, that your children will be educated without charge…playtime is over”.
As of now, Le Pen is predicted to win the first round of the French election cycle set to take place in April. Though polls predict her opponent Emmanuel Macron – a pro European centrist – will win in the final round, political polls have infamously been wrong several times this past year.