Opinion

France's right-wing extremist is just your typical Republican

Marine Le Pen may have fallen short in France — but many of her policies are mainstream in America

Analysts all over the world woke up on Monday morning to mourn the fact that far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen wasn't beaten soundly enough, even though she lost by more than 16 points to a man few people in France apparently love, the incumbent Emmanuel Macron.

Sixteen points? Sixteen points? In the United States, people who share many of Le Pen's ideals — including opposition to immigration, Islam, and globalization — win office every election cycle.

What puts Le Pen and the National Rally Party in the far-right corner of politics, then? Like her near-fascist father before her, Le Pen isn't fond of immigrants, and I mean really not fond. She wants them to assimilate to French culture to the point where they would be indistinguishable from France's original immigrants (or rather, invaders), the Germanic Franks, who came for a visit to the Roman Empire in the 4th century and never went away. But even more than assimilating, Le Pen and her party would much rather immigrants just go back to where they came from.

That's a point that resonates among many people in the United States.

"They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people," Donald Trump said on the day in 2015 that he announced he was running for president. During his tenure in office, Trump took many different steps to limit immigration, and not just the illegal sort. In fact, in 2020, he reduced the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. by 49 percent.

Le Pen certainly would have approved. And so do U.S. voters in general, not just Republicans. Nearly 60 percent of those who participated in a recent Gallup poll said there was too much immigration into the country. That makes anti-immigrant sentiment mainstream. Le Pen's platform also proposed that non-citizen immigrants arrested for any crime be sent back to their country of origin. This fringe position in France is the law of the land in America and has been for years.

National Rally is also famously skeptical of international alliances, especially those with NATO and the European Union. France is one of the founding members of the EU, and along with Germany, forms its heart. For France to leave the Union would gut it, and possibly bring an end to the "European project" of peace and economic cooperation for the continent. But such actions don't send a shudder down the spine of Americans; Trump for his part killed a major trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, threatened to undo America's free-trade deal with Mexico and Canada, pulled out of the Paris climate treaty, and came closer than we ever knew to essentially pulling the U.S. out of NATO — all to the applause of many Republicans.

Trump was not standing out in the cold on the issue of NATO, either. Before the war in Ukraine, only 48 percent of Americans thought the organization was doing a good job, and a full 65 percent of Republicans thought it was doing a poor job. If France is the heart of the EU, the U.S. simply is NATO. The U.S. founded the alliance and provides a shield for the other members that fall under the American aegis. This may change, thanks Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, which has forced Europe to rethink its role in its own defense, but as of right now, U.S. leadership is clear and unquestioned.

And speaking of the war in Ukraine and Russia in general, Le Pen and Trump share something else: A love for Putin. Over and over, Trump praised Putin for his intelligence, strength, and the high quality of his negotiating tactics. He even asked for Russia to help him get dirt on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, which is widely believed to have been tainted by Russian interference, both online and off. Le Pen is also deeply tied to Putin, speaking warmly of the autocrat while her National Rally happily took Russian money. She has praised Putin's nationalism and skepticism of globalization.

Le Pen's economic policies are not a one-to-one correlation with those in the GOP — this is France after all, so some "socialism" on health care and other issues are required — but the fear of corporate globalism is exactly the same. Trump's "America First" economics fit very well with Le Pen's ideas.

On social issues, National Rally had to moderate several positions to become competitive in France. Gay marriage and abortion play their part in the political process over there, just as they do here, and Le Pen had to loosen up. The difference here is that America's far-right is succeeding in protecting the "traditional values" of the Dark Ages.

So could Le Pen be elected in America? No, she's a foreigner. But as far as her positions go, there's very little to bar a politician like her. We've already voted for people on the local and national levels who make Le Pen practically look like a liberal. Even her position that Muslims should not be allowed to wear headscarves in public places, while extreme, falls in line with overall American feelings about Muslims.

Even now, as President Biden is being praised elsewhere in the world for rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and reaffirming America's commitment to NATO, there are viable presidential candidates waiting in the wings to undo that work. And even if they don't win in 2024, chances are they'll be a lot closer to the White House than 16 points behind.

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