Wednesday, April 19, 2017

France and Your Faithful Correspondent Go Insane

I don’t know how other journalists are even reading the news fast enough to make their deadlines right now. It’s easy enough to criticize the media; I do it all the time; I even do it more than anyone, I reckon. But this week all I can say is that I admire any colleague who managed to do the one thing a journalist has got to do to survive in this business: submit his report before the story’s no longer news.
I’ve been writing two pieces this week, one about last Sunday’s referendum in Turkey, the other about the upcoming election in France. I’ve worked to the point of near-tearful exhaustion on both, but neither are done. Nor, I fear, will either be finished before they’re no longer of use to any editor. So much has happened, so fast, and there is so much to explain, that I just can’t do it quickly enough. Those who can do it will be published; and even if their articles are riddled with errors of fact and interpretation or horrors of English prose, it is only right that theirs will be published and mine will not, because editors do need to fill their pages with something, after all. They can’t wait for writers like me to figure out how to compress my frantic thoughts about the history, the drama, the complexity, the personalities, the sheer weirdness of these epic events into “Five Facts You Need to Know Today” — and I can’t even blame them for it. The chief attribute you need to succeed in journalism is the ability to get 800 readable words on an editor’s desk before the day’s end, every single day, and I don’t have it. When yesterday Theresa May yesterday announced her plan to call a snap call a snap general election, my first thought was that another election was going to do me in — and I didn’t just mean the stress of living through it, I meant the prospect of explaining it.
So all I can say is thank God — and thank you — that I have a book to write, because it means that what I’ve written won’t be wasted. To everyone who’s made this book a possibility, I am truly grateful: The thought that none of what I wrote will be wasted is all that’s keeping me from staggering off the ledge into madness along with everyone else I’m writing about.
And to anyone in a generous mood, please consider contributing, or contributing again: I can say with absolute confidence that the book is being written even as I blow through deadline after deadline; because this book is what I’m really writing, and this book, for sure, will answer all your questions about Turkey’s referendum, the real meaning of France’s election cliffhanger, Britain’s future, and the way these stories unite to form a portrait of the ill-starred continent to which we’re bound, like it or not, its tragic and tangled history, and its uncertain future.
For those of you who can’t wait for the book, however, let me recommend a few articles about what happened in France this week by writers who managed to make their deadlines. All three are surprisingly good, despite not being written by me and despite being finished on time.
In Slate (of all places) Yascha Mounk has written a fine piece called A Primer on the French Elections: Four Candidates, three nightmare scenarios:
For many years, Mélenchon has been about as marginal a political figure as his endorsement of Fiscal Combat might suggest. After breaking with the center-left Parti Socialiste of President François Hollande, he has called for a 100 percent tax on incomes over 400,000 euros (about $426,000) and endorsed dictators such as Hugo Chavez. And yet, the latest polls see Mélenchon in a dead heat with centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative François Fillon, and far-right populist Marine Le Pen. Any two out of those four might come out on top in the first rounds of the upcoming presidential elections.In other words, less than a week before the first round of the election, and less than three weeks before a runoff between the two leading candidates that will determine the next inhabitant of the Élysée Palace, the country’s political future is completely up in the air. France might soon be ruled by a self-described communist, by an untested centrist whose political movement was founded less than a year ago, by a traditional conservative under investigation for blatantly corrupt practices, or by the far-right leader of a party with deep fascist roots.
(And please, I beg you: Before averring the irrelevance of Marine Le Pen’s fascist roots, please, at least, wait for my book, or for the article that, God willing, I’ll finish in time to explain this, and to explain why they should frighten us. I spent most of the week writing about her and her lunatic family and about how criminally reckless it would be to dismiss the words “fascist roots,” words so overused that they have even perhaps come to sound anodyne to American ears. But at the very least, watch this. That is what is meant by “fascist roots,” and those are the roots from which her rotten branch grows — as last week she clearly reminded us.)
In The Daily Beast, Christopher Dickey gets right to the point with a piece called The Insane French Elections That Could Fuck Us All. It isn’t just vulgar sensationalism, I’m afraid.
Less than three weeks from now, in the final round of the presidential elections, the only choice left to the voters of France could well be between Le Pen, a crypto-fascist, or Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a charismatic communist, both of whom are strongly anti-EU and anti-NATO.
Victory for either one would mean an end to the political, diplomatic, and economic order that has protected the United States as well as Europe for the last 70 years, preventing the kinds of cataclysms—World Wars I and II—that cost millions of lives in the first half of the 20th century while containing first Soviet and now Russian adventurism.
There are other possibilities, but as the French prepare to go to the polls (or flee them) this Sunday, April 23, the possible outcomes are a total crapshoot. The four top candidates in a field of 11 are in a virtual dead heat; the differences between their scores is within the acknowledged margins of error by the pollsters. The top two finishers will vie against each other in a run-off on May 7. And the reason something like panic has set in among many French, from the heights of the political establishment to conversation over espressos at the counters in working-class cafés, is that the candidate with the most solid base is Le Pen, while the one with the most momentum is the far-left Mélenchon.
As for Mélenchon’s astonishing sudden rise, my friend Arun has done an outstanding job of explaining this terrible turn of events, to the extent they can be explained:
… When I saw these numbers, my jaw dropped. This is, objectively speaking, insane. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is not exactly a newcomer on the French political scene. He’s been around for a while and anyone with a merely passing interest in politics knows him and his trash-talking gauchiste persona. So WTF is going on here? This cannot be just his performance in the March 20th and April 4th multi-candidate debates. Ça ne peut pas suffire. The fact of the matter is, JLM has tapped into something profound in the id of a sizable part of the French electorate—both left and right—which I personally do not relate to but that is there. On this, I received an email a week ago from a faithful AWAV reader in Marseille—who is French, secular Jewish, a retired advertising executive, on the moderate left but no gauchiste—after JLM’s rally in the city. What he wrote is interesting and instructive, as his sentiments are no doubt shared by many:
Il y a la politique et puis il y a la politique.
I gave up on joining the crowd sur le Vieux Port, because it was already past 2 pm and I wanted to hear Meluche in good conditions, so I stayed home and watched him on TV… The magic worked, I had to admire the man and the talent.
He brought tears in my eyes. I didn’t agree on all of what he said, but I agreed on his choice of words, the value and the weight of the words, the tone, the gravity, the music, the emotional content.
It is part of my French heritage. It speaks to my roots. This is what France is all about. Something lyrical, fierce, generous and noble as is the Marseillaise.
Read the whole thing.
France, in short, has gone insane, and anything could happen.
Now I’ll go back to work in the hope of finishing both of my own articles before events overtake them. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll share a few of my thoughts about what just happened in Turkey. These are not trivial developments, and it is hard for me to feel that I’m not trivializing them by compressing my responses to them. But in the end, saying nothing at all would be worse. So I’ll do my best.

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