On Sunday, April 24, 2022, the people of France voted for President, with the result being that the incumbent President, Emmanuel Macron, was reelected. He won over challenger Marie Le Pen by a vote of 58%-42% of the vote, which in most parts of the world (including the United States of America) would be a landslide that would be seen as giving the candidate a mandate. However, because of Marie Le Pen's background as a reactionary and xenophobe, it still seemed like an uncomfortably thin margin of victory.

Macron and Le Pen had faced off in 2017, when Macron had beaten Le Pen by a 66-33% margin, a 2-1 margin that seemed to be a solid repudiation of far-right, xenophobic populism that Le Pen espoused. But over the five years of Macron's term, a few things happened. The first being Covid-19, that caused the same type of social division as it did in other countries where quarantine measures caused discontent. The second, more recently, was the invasion of Ukraine by a neighboring entity, which on one hand shocked people across Europe with the cruelty of that entity's actions, but also caused a spike in inflation that hurt people across France. Le Pen tried to draw attention to economic issues, proposing a series of populist economic measures, while Macron brought attention to Le Pen's past friendliness with the warlord of the invading entity, who authoritian nature she had admired in the past.

France has runoff elections, and the first round, as it had been in 2017, was evenly divided among several different candidates, including many candidates to the left of Macron. The first round had Macron with 28% of the vote, and Le Pen with 23% of the vote, only slightly beating out Jean-Luc Melenchon, with 22% of the vote. Over the next several weeks, it seemed to be a somewhat close race between Macron and Le Pen, especially because Melenchon, while denouncing Le Pen, did not endorse Macron. However, on election night, he won by a margin that in other times and places would be seen as quite solid, especially since he was the first President of France under the current system to be re-elected.

I don't know a lot about French politics. I tend to like French literature, especially the part of French literature where I make fun of how pretentious and pointless it is. But I doubt that the French voters in this election were worried about Guy de Maupassant, or Andre Gide, or Jean-Francois Lyotard. They were probably mostly concerned with the same type of kitchen table issues and regional loyalties that make it hard for me to explain US politics to people from outside the US. And it might be somewhat heartening that Le Pen had more success talking about sales tax on diapers than she did on proposing a ban on head scarves for Muslim women. It also shows how politics have realigned across the globe, not just in the US: Macron, an investment banker with generally free-market principles, was the left wing candidate in comparison with Le Pen, who advocated for policies to benefit poorer people, while still being the right wing candidate. "Social" and "economic" issues are decoupling across the globe, in a way that it is too complicated for me to understand.

But my takeaway from this election, and from other such elections, is that until any association with xenophobia and cryptofascism is poison, candidates with those views will always come creeping back. And the electoral strategy of many of them is to grief their way into an election: to wait until some strange mixture of circumstances manages to get them into office. And of course, like the joke about drinking lava, they might only have to win election once, because as authoritarians, they don't have to respect elections that they don't win. Only when any type of flirting with fascism becomes a third rail will we be able to stop worrying. However, as we saw in different contexts, voters will either refuse to send a strong message because they think that cryptofascism is a pecadillo, or, like Melenchon, they will treat it as if it is no different than a politician with a different economic position. And while generally I would be loathe to criticize the electorate of another country, the left-wing voters who refused to vote for Macron did a disservice to themselves and their country: when compared with fascism, even the most banal "normal" conservative should be given the full support of as many people as possible, so that the attempt by people like Le Pen to normalize themselves can be obliterated.

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