John A. Tures
This is a column by John A. Tures, a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He is a regular contributor to the Savannah Morning News.
France recently held their election, which resulted in a repudiation of authoritarianism and the politics of Putin. Given that France is like the United States, a presidential system, I examine what lessons we might pick up from Paris and elsewhere about party politics and the public.
Despite dire predictions that Putin ally Marine Le Pen might prevail, incumbent President Emmanuel Macron held her off to win the runoff comfortably by an estimated 58% to 42% margin, despite having an approval rating of 44% and a disapproval rating of 54% a month ago. The lesson for U.S. politics is that voters are capable of distinguishing whether democracy is to blame and whether or not a less democratic solution would be better.
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Some journalists have harped on the argument this margin was closer than Macron’s last victory, signaling potential trouble down the road, even hinting at a moral victory for Le Pen. But it’s a faulty argument. Such writers failed to point out that Macron has had to wrestle with (1) the chaos of those who refuse to accept election results, (2) the pandemic, (3) the economic collapse that followed and (4) the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine and the potential for fuel price pressures.
Any one of these “four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” events would be enough to topple a political leader in the past, but Macron still won by double-digits. Articles from The Atlantic and AP, calling Le Pen’s showing a “victory,” for the far-right, didn’t mention a single one of these challenges to the Macron Administration.
Like America’s January 6th Insurrectionists, France had to contend with some yellow-vested hotheads who tried to disrupt the country’s politics in the wake of the prior election. Moreover, with one of the deadliest pandemics in history, the economic hardships it brought, and fuel costs from Putin’s gambit, these situations would destroy anyone’s reelection bid. France has had its share of one-term presidents, failed prime minister bids and those who opt to avoid running for another term.
Why did Macron wind up with a whopping 58% in France, given all of those struggles? Voters in democratic countries are becoming smarter about seeing through authoritarian propaganda emanating from abroad, amplified and even echoed or parroted by domestic sources. You can’t promise stability and security when you’ve played a role in fomenting the trouble. Autocrats and those who emulate their style failed to contain COVID-19, and then sought to blame democracy and its freedoms for the coronavirus and subsequent economic devastation.
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Perhaps Putin and the Russians felt that he would not only roll over Ukraine quickly, but also win over Europe and North America as well, counting on us to be easily duped by authoritarian propaganda on the war. Or he and his allies abroad would knuckle under, chucking principles and the lives of the Ukrainian people for slightly cheaper gas.
But the French appear to have resisted the siren call of some who promise to wave a magic wand and make it all better. Americans may well do the same, enduring sacrifices for strangers that a self-absorbed despot just wouldn’t understand.
States like Georgia will cast their votes in primaries next month, facing every single challenge that France’s leaders have dealt with. The U.S. has had its political disruptors, coronavirus cases, economic hardships and higher costs, a combination of higher fuel prices and government spending necessitated by the need to take unprecedented steps to battle a tiny but lethal enemy.
What these results across the Atlantic show is that many in America can resist the hype and see the truth behind what got us into the fix, and what can help us continue our recovery. The 2022 French election showed that incumbents who face some of the worst times to come before an electorate can still prevail in the polls