Vive La France! You gotta love those people. Let us count the ways:
1. The presidential election tally
Unlike the 46.1 percent of American voters who got suckered by a demagogue (and dragged the rest of us down with them), only 33.9 percent of French voters did the same. Last night, a landslide 66.1 percent embraced an inclusive, pro-NATO, pro-European Union candidate – and stomped his proto-fascist opponent.
Barack Obama officially endorsed Emmanuel Macron, who’s promising “a new humanism.” Donald Trump pulled for Marine Le Pen, heir to her father’s racist, anti-immigrant party. That says it all. Trump had hoped that a lone-terrorist attack last month in Paris, staged by an ISIS wannabe, would propel Le Pen to the presidency; he tweeted, “The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!” Well, it had no effect. The people of France rejected fear-mongering and they reject Trumpism. In an early May poll, Trump’s favorability rating in France was 13 percent. Obama’s was 90.
Macron had warned French voters not to be complacent about the right-wing danger in their midst. He even released an eleventh-hour video about what happened in the America election, with the tag line “The worst is not impossible.” They heeded him. They duly upheld the western democratic values that we are tragically imperiling on these shores.
2. The rules of the game
The French don’t indulge a 24/7 campaign frenzy right to the finish line. Quite the opposite, in fact. By law they require that the candidates chill out for the final 48 hours; between midnight Friday and the close of the polls on Sunday night, they prohibit candidate events, candidate tweets, media election commentary — anything that might possibly sway the result and undercut voters’ time for reflection.
Granted, some of those rules — notably the media prohibitions — wouldn’t fly with our First Amendment. But today we’re just admiring the French on their terms. So even though Macron’s emails were hacked and released at the last minute (looks like the Russians were trying to aid another stooge, this time Le Pen), they had zero impact on the final results — because the press was barred from reporting on them. Some emails (real ones mixed with fake ones) circulated on right-wing social media, mostly among Le Pen supporters, but the mainstream media stayed away. French authorities warned that there could be consequences for reporting on emails that turn out to be fake; they said that reporters should “remember their sense of responsibility.”
3. France’s highly secular culture
In America, as we discovered last November, there’s a huge religious-right constituency that’s willing to sell out its sainted moral values and embrace a serial-lying thrice-married philanderer, a poster child for monetary greed, only because it wanted, say, a Supreme Court seat. France does not have that kind of constituency. As the author Joyce Carol Oates tweeted yesterday, “Though (France) may sometimes behave irrationally, France considers ‘reason’ a high value.”
4. France’s responsible conservative establishment
In America, as we discovered last autumn, most leaders and rank-and-file members of the Republican party were perfectly willing to jettison their spines and bow down to the demagogue. (It’s still happening, as we saw in the House last week with the Trumpcare abomination.) But in France, the conservative establishment, which is roughly the GOP’s equivalent, refused to capitulate to Marine Le Pen. The center-right’s stand against racism and veiled anti-Semitism contributed to Le Pen’s decisive loss.
And it was done publicly. Immediately after the first round of presidential voting in April, center-right leader (and Prime Minister) Francois Fillon endorsed Emmanuel Macron. Imagine if Paul Ryan had endorsed Hillary Clinton — it’s a bit like that. Fillon said, “We have to choose what is preferable … Le Pen is intolerant, and we need to vote against the far right.” Nice to see a conservative establishment with some guts.
5. France’s wise senior citizens
In America, as we saw last November, older voters were perfectly content to elect an aspiring authoritarian; according to the exit polls, Trump won the 65-and-olders, 52-45 percent. But in France, the oldest folks apparently intuit — from their parents’ experiences — what it must be like to live under the authoritarian heel. Those voters, age 70 and higher, rejected Le Pen by the largest margin of all: 78 to 22 percent. They could teach their American counterparts a few things about historical perspective.
6. A participating electorate
French turnout yesterday was 74 percent, the lowest since 1969. Wait, what? 74 percent is the lowest since 1969? In our country we turn cartwheels when the turnout share hits 55. Kudos to the French for taking the democratic franchise seriously — and for staging elections on Sundays, when turnout can be maximized. And kudos to the French political parties, which don’t pull stunts like photo IDs and other forms of voter suppression. Unlike an American party I could name.
7. Oh, I almost forgot:
In France’s democracy, the candidate with the most votes wins. Quelle un concept!