Monday, December 14, 2015

National Front's Third-Place Finish in the Second Round of France's Regional Elections: Cautionary Tale for Trump

Well, if the National Front points the way for Donald Trump over the next few months it is going to be a rocky road for the reality TV star real estate mogul. Marine Le Pen's nativist third party failed to win control of any regional government in the second round of voting yesterday in France. According to the AP this morning, "No Real Winner in French Elections, Presidential Race Ahead":
The far-right National Front, the front-runner in the first round of the regional vote, was crushed in Sunday's second round. Despite the defeat, the leader of the anti-immigrant party still has her sights set on the French presidency. 
Marine Le Pen hopes to capitalize on fears over Islamic extremism and a surge of migrants into Europe, and on the political horse trading that went on between conservatives and Socialists in the run-up to the regional elections. 
The Socialists withdrew their candidates from two regions where Le Pen and her niece were running and asked their supporters to vote for their conservative rival to prevent the National Front from scoring symbolic wins. 
This has left the Socialists totally absent from the councils in those two regions. They have also lost the Paris region, which conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse won. 
The official results of the regional elections put the conservative party ahead with 40.2 percent of the votes nationwide. The results from Sunday's vote put the Socialist party in second with 28.9 percent and the far-right National Front in third with 27.1 percent. 
The conservatives took control of seven of France's 13 regions while the Socialist party won in five regions. The winner in Corsica wasn't affiliated with a major party. 
The National Front won its largest number of votes in an election with a total of 6.8 million, better than Le Pen's performance in the 2012 presidential race. The party has extended its influence with more than 350 councilors on regional councils.
There are two takeaways here: 1) The two main parties, liberal Socialists and conservative Republicans, collaborated with one another to make sure that the National Front would not gain control of any regional government, and 2) despite being overwhelmed in the second round the National Front won more votes than it ever has before.

Throughout the West, the mainstream political duopolies, historically representing capital and labor, have thoroughly deracinated their popular base of support. The mainstream parties in the West serve the bankers and the corporations. That is why you have the curious scenario in Britain where the popular Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is actually opposed by a majority of his own MPs.

This deracination of the mainstream parties has become so pronounced after nearly 40 years of neoliberalism that it has created an opening for formerly fascist parties like the National Front or a rhetorically savvy demagogue like Donald Trump.

But as the second round of voting in France's regional elections makes clear, the two hands of the duopoly will join together to beat back any upstart. All one need do is consult American political history from a century ago. Then, during the Age of Progressivism, when reformers and socialists were challenging the entrenched city machines of the Republican and Democrats, it was a common occurrence for the machines to coalesce, just as the Socialists and Republicans did this past week in France, in order to keep Progressives and Socialists from victory.

Trump should take note, and not just because the Republican National Committee is powwowing about how to block Trump at the convention in Cleveland this July (see Alan Rappeport's "For Republicans, Contested 1976 Convention Looms Over 2016 Race"). A greater danger for Trump, if he manages to win the primaries, will be the collaboration of GOP elders with the Dems to pitch the election to Hillary in the general. Is there any question that Hillary better represents the interests of the Republican Party and the deracinated neoliberal center than Donald Trump?

Rob Urie had an acute piece, "The Donald, Ascendent," from a left, radical perspective, on the current hand-wringing about Trump. In it Urie situates the rise of Trump firmly in the soil of Obama's "Manchurian" candidacy:
Barack Obama encountered a reformer’s circumstance when he entered office in the midst of crisis in 2009. Repudiation of the late-capitalist project that had run from the mid-1970s to crisis in 2008 in some measure explained Mr. Obama’s election. In Democrat apparatchik fashion it quickly became apparent that Mr. Obama had been properly vetted by the powers that be and that he clearly understood his role as restorer-in-chief of the predatory, dysfunctional order that had led to crisis. With the same ambition of ‘resume-enhancement’ that Donald Trump now pursues the Presidency; Mr. Obama is of the insular and well-insulated order that considers self-interest first and perceives the public interest as a public relations problem. 
Fear that Mr. Trump is a nascent fascist assumes that he has actual political interests rather than a blowhard’s interest in self-promotion. Twentieth century German fascists, Nazis, spent two decades instantiating themselves into the fabric of regional governance before rising to power. And they had a political program. As Mr. Obama and his recent predecessors have demonstrated, modern American governance is more a business to be milked by insiders. It is hardly an accident that government employment has fallen under Mr. Obama for the first time in decades under the corporate rationale of economic ‘efficiency.’ But other than restoration and perpetuation of the existing order official Washington isn’t that ambitious. This isn’t to suggest that it isn’t dangerous— the embedded government, broadly considered, is in the business of creating global chaos and destruction. But the motives are different from explicit fascism. 
Donald Trump is frightening for the place in history that his ascendance represents and not for who he is. In 2009 Democrats had the opportunity to change the course of history by redirecting political economy to support the people who comprise it. Seven years of bank bailouts, scam public interest programs, abusive ‘trade’ deals, domestic surveillance and racist / classist police repression later and they are the face of everything wrong with late-stage capitalism. And here is the kicker— this was very easy to predict. Even a few liberals made the point that inadequate economic policies would discredit the idea that governments can resolve economic crises. Left out of the liberal frame was class analysis that explained why it was unlikely that Democrats could even serve their own long-term political interests by acting in the broader public interest. 
The current political season is the grimmest in modern history. Democrats frightened by Donald Trump’s rhetoric likely don’t know much about Hillary Clinton’s actual policies— those that she has acted on in official capacities and not the empty blather that she puts forward to win votes. The danger of motivated and empowered racists and nativists is real and it precedes the rise of Donald Trump. Ms. Clinton and the Democrat establishment bear as much responsibility as Republicans for creating the economic circumstances that support manufactured social divisions. The eternal Democrat motivation of lesser-evilism is so much empty chatter in the face of actual Democrat policies over the last thirty years. Obama administration policies were intended to deliver political power to Donald Trump and his class-mates in plutocracy. To now complain about how they are using it is both pathetic and less than well-considered.

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