In the Countdown (and Desperately Reading Entrails)

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Paris this week is sunny and unseasonably cold, with a quirky, biting wind. A shivering snake of art-appreciators fills the space in front of the Pompidou, inching forward to the security check. The attraction is a major retrospective of Cy Twombly, the master of runic squiggles and suggestive word-juxtapositions that may well mean something, especially if you buy and study the annotated catalogue.

With only two and half days to go before Sunday’s first election round, one hopes the sharp wind will clear thick cobwebs of anger, frustration and wishful thinking from so many French voters’ minds. For the moment, twenty percent of likely voters say they have yet to decide on a candidate. The threat of a massive contigent of blank votes and stayaways may strike one as alarming and also irresponsible, but there is in French public life a strong streak of what pdv will call ‘non-ism’: that is non to all forms of power, to participation in the flawed ‘system’, to faith in incremental progress—essentially, non to the inherent injustice of life. At rallies for the rapidly advancing, extreme left candidate Luc Melenchon, thousands of mostly young supporters shout ‘Resistance!’ To what? The current Socialist government? The social safety net? The times are challenging, mostly due to a stagnating economy. But this is not 1940.

Melenchon’s siren song promises include: a wage to all citizens, increasing state jobs, a cap on salaries (400k euro), leaving the Euro zone, reducing the retirement age to 60 and the work week to 32 hours. Sounds like paradise? But most economists predict that with this program there will be a mass exodus of talent and capital, skyrocketing interest rates, and that France will soon be deeper in misery than Greece.   France already has by far the highest ratio of bureaucrats to citizens in the devloped world. And a rising public debt of 100% of GDP. Mere pesky numbers to Melenchon and his believers.

Marine LePen is also, more famously, unfazed by inconvenient numbers and facts. Her first moves would include: exit europe, exit all trade treaties, return to the franc currency, ‘weaponize’ the borders, add 15,000 gendarmes and 6000 customs officers, reduce immigration to 10,000 per year, slash taxes across the board, retirement at sixty, ‘baby bonuses’ to all families.

It’s a wonder, really, that Luc and Marine don’t raise a glass together!

All that said, as improbable as it would have seemed six months ago, right now the three top candidates are in a dead heat in the polls, with the young middle-road pragmatist Emmanuel Macron holding a statistically insignificant lead, and Francois Fillon a close fourth.

Fillon, an irreproachable family man, has nonetheless been breaking hearts across the nation since January, after he surprised the world by winning 70% of the hotly contested vote of his rightist party. His economic program is, in those voters’ opinion, the strong medicine sickly France needs. But then came scandal: he employed at State expense family members who hardly lifted a finger (apparently most French pols do the same, but they decorate it better). Worse, he has a weakness for very expensive bespoke suits.

Americans buffeted by their President’s billion dollar profiteering and flouting of decency and truth may envy such awkward pecadilloes.

The first round on Sunday will create one of these run-offs:

Melenchon vs LePen

Macron vs LePen

or

Fillon vs LePen.

Brexit, Trump, Erdogan. The grafitti is on the international wall. Two elites—intellectuals and the concentrators of capital—have been too long blind to the left-behind.

Oh, about predicting the future from those sacrificial entrails?  Despite the polls, a group of students hacked together an app that predicts Fillon/LePen.

More tomorrow.

 

 

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7 comments

  1. Wonderfully clear assessment. And frightening to boot. Your column does nothing to ease my sense– Brexit, Chump, Erdogan– that the wheels are coming off. At this point it feels as though only Canada and Germany are sane.

  2. Many are worried about Germany. As you know I am there often. I am not so worried. That said, the French election could have a spillover effect.

  3. Let’s say in Germany or France, where it’s more difficult for foreigners, I guess,

  4. margot livesey · · Reply

    Thank you so much for this very timely and informative letter. May the winds blow fair for Sunday.

  5. Many thanks for your insights. Here I’m watching my friends and former students (scientists, engineers, and those who support a saner future) brave the rains to march for science. The fact we even need a march to support science says it all for me.

  6. At fourteen I studied Mendel
    hands-on’ in bio class and then read a fellow named Dobzhansky and then wanted to become a geneticist. How many kids have that exposure today, I wonder?

  7. Well, a good result. Macron ahead, despite all uncertainties around him. Mélenchon seems to be out. Good. Now, let us make sure Macron wins the second round. He may be young, but it is time for France to stop electing old men. (I am relieved) 🙂
    Have a lovely week.

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