Observing the Whirlwind

13 June 2024

I have a new article up at The New Republic. (There’s a problem with this link, which should be fixed shortly, however.) Here are a few additional thoughts.

In the midst of a tornado, one sees only the debris whirling in the funnel. The devastation becomes visible only after the storm has passed. This post will be filled with debris.

First, the roof blew off Les Républicains. The party leader, Eric Ciotti, announced his intention to sign an electoral pact with the RN. To my surprise, he was immediately repudiated by every other prominent Republican, including Laurent Wauquiez, who had been Ciotti’s choice as the party’s next presidential candidate. One by one, all the ténors of LR–Barnier, Bellamy, Bertrand, Larcher, Pécresse, Pradié, Retailleau, Wauquiez–vied with one another to find new words for Ciotti’s perfidy: shame, dishonor, treachery, betrayal, disgusting, collaborationist. If only American Republicans could find the courage to denounce the shame within their own ranks. But then again, Eric Ciotti is no Trump–except perhaps in his litigiousness: he has gone to court to claim that his colleagues had no right under party by-laws to remove him. He may win his case, but he will remain a leader without followers.

[ADDENDUM: The fine chorus of LR “resisters” has struck a sour note: Bellamy now says he will vote for the RN in the second round if necessary to keep LFI out of power: «Bien sûr», a-t-il répondu à une question de Pascal Praud. «Il est évident que je ferai tout pour empêcher que la France Insoumise n’arrive au pouvoir dans ce pays», a-t-il par ailleurs déclaré, exprimant vouloir «éviter que la France ne tombe dans les mains de cette alliance d’extrême gauche [en parlant du Front populaire]».]

Unless, of course, LR voters follow him into the abyss by voting for Le Pen, and there are many indicators that a substantial number of them will do just that. The LR leadership found its political courage too late, after allowing its rhetoric to drift too far toward the radical right: Had not presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse spoken of “the great replacement” during the campaign? The cordon sanitaire between the center right and far right had been allowed to stand as the ultimate signifier of the insuperable difference between them, even as the actual distance diminished by the day. This was not solely LR’s fault: the RN also moved quite some way toward LR, even enticing a former Republican such as Sébastien Chenu to join its leadership. The center right’s de facto capitulation thus preceded Ciotti’s abject surrender, but the party failed to recognize that it was disarming itself in the midst of combat.

Meanwhile, the left has formed a Popular Front. As it happens, the move came on the 90th anniversary, to the day, of the Blum-Thorez meeting that led to the original Popular Front. Unfortunately, the new Popular Front is a resurrection of the recently defunct Nupes, and it bears all the scars of the Nupes’s fratricidal fracases even before it enters the real battle. Raphaël Glucksmann, whose Place Publique deserves most of the credit for the left’s modest revival in the European Parliament elections, has been overshadowed by the parties, which control the apportionment of districts in which the Popular Front will run its single candidates. La France Insoumise will get the bulk of the candidacies, though not necessarily the bulk of the deputies, and this brings to the fore the insuperable problem that sank the Nupes: Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The irony is that it was Mélenchon’s rival for leadership of the far left, François Ruffin, who proposed the Popular Front, but Mélenchon may emerge as the chief beneficiary, and that alone may give pause to many voters as they weigh their choices on June 30.

[ADDENDUM: The Popular Front may have collapsed. The stumbling blocks were predictable: Israel/Palestine, antisemitism, the character of Mélenchon, gender politics concerning certain figures such as Quatennens and Bayou …].

Yesterday’s other development was President Macron’s news conference. It was vintage Macron. As disheveled journalists haltingly read their fifteen-part questions from their cellphones, the impeccably tailored president fluently replied with fifteen-minute answers, never a comma out of place, touching on each point of the question but expanding from niggling detail to thrilling vista of the bright tomorrow to come once the ingenious presidential vision was fully implemented despite the futile resistance of les Gaulois réfractaires. All would be well as soon as “the presidential majority” was restored to full control by the will of the people, as it surely would be on July 7. The unruffled Macron seemed to be living in an alternate reality, in which his only concession to the politics of the moment was to reject both “the radical left” and “the radical right,” as if the words left and right inevitably came paired with the adjective “radical,” leading to the glorious restoration of the untainted center, located at the precise spot behind the lectern at which the president stood. The performance was breathtaking, but not in a good way. It reminded us of how we got here.



  • bernard says:

    The good news is that since Labour will likely win in the UK, we can ask for political asylum there or maybe Rwanda once France has sleepwalked into the abyss.

    • Connecticut Yankee says:

      Be careful what you wish for – Labour’s manifesto calls for repealing Brexit and [re-]joining the EU, which Macron and the French pushed for…at the time. But things change and it would not be the strangest conclusion if, to remain in power, EM made a deal with the right to oppose such a union now.

  • John D Ely says:

    This appears to be a giant mess. Presumably there is no chance that Glucksmann will join with the left popular front, recognizing that if they as a whole manage to beat both the far right and what is left of Macron’s center, there is no chance that anyone but he would be acceptable to Macron as the PM. The implied formula would be continued working together with the center-left on a more moderate foreign policy regarding Ukraine than is the case for the narcissist Macron, but in alignment with that of the German center-left, the upcoming Labour gov’t in the UK, the Biden administration, and most everyone else in the European Union. And while have a program that actually speaks to the working people of France.

  • FrédéricLN says:

    Hello Art and readers, … as I don’t anymore play even a smallest part in these affairs, I did not come here since at least months. But I just read a person on twitter wrote: “These have undoubtedly been the wildest 72 hours in French politics in my lifetime”. So, I’m glad to see the wind is whirling here too! When even the most acute Fachleute get surprised by the turn of the events (as for sure I have been too!) – that’s when real action takes place.

    Bad news is – this second fall of the Giscardian almost-empty center, if it sounds much like April 1981, goes in an opposite, and frightening, direction.

  • Nolo says:

    I have been reading you for years, as a slightly (ten years ago…by today’s standard I am borderline fascist) conservative voter I can confirm you that if the choice is between 2 years of insufferable wokery and the RN, the right will go to the latter. I finally understand Trump’s success, your average republican probably doesn’t like him very much but they dislike the democrats more.

    I think people understimate the speed of change and its impact on voting behaviour. Position that were mainstream ten years ago are now beyond the pale of respectable discourse on public television. The traditionnal pro-business/pro-religion bourgeoisie used to go with reasonnably right-wing candidates, now it will go with the RN since Zemmour is effectively dead. As for the “people of the right” of policeman, soldiers and small business owners, they never were repulsed by Le Pen.

    The “cordon sanitaire” always was asymetric but in the old days it had the advantage for the left of precluding any UDF-RPR-FN alliance and then any UMP-FN alliance in parliamentary election.

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