Electoral turmoil in US and France threatens twilight of the West

Electoral turmoil in US and France threatens twilight of the West

Electoral turmoil in US and France threatens twilight of the West
Macron supporters in Nantes react as results of the first round of French polls are announced on June 30, 2024. (AFP)
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Over the past few days in France I have spoken to many people who profoundly fear for the future of Western democracy.

Influential cultural figures and intellectuals spoke eloquently about their trepidation over France’s very identity amid the malign rise of extremes. Second-generation citizens worry that their European nationality could come under threat. Everyone I spoke to was determined to make their votes count.

President Emmanuel Macron warned that France risked being plunged into civil war if either of his “extreme” opponents won a parliamentary majority. The far-right National Rally looks set to emerge as parliament’s largest party after next week’s second round of high-risk snap elections called by Macron after the right’s dominant performance in the European Parliament elections. The left-wing New Popular Front also looks set to perform strongly, auguring an implosion of Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance.

As one French academic put it, if Macron’s snap elections gamble pays off, “he’ll go down as a brilliant strategist.” If not, he’ll “go down in history as somebody who essentially exploded the traditional party system in France and … took a grenade to the institutions of the Fifth Republic.” Far-right leader Marine Le Pen threatened to reduce France’s support for Ukraine and Macron’s ability to control defense policy. While Macron has been one of Ukraine’s fiercest supporters in Europe, Le Pen has a long record of flirtation with Putin. Macron accused her of being on the Kremlin’s payroll.

Financial markets have been spooked at outlandish economic proposals by both left and right, and the campaign has been distinguished by rabid antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism and anti-immigrant incitement. Whether the outcome is far-right or far-left government, or a hung parliament, few doubt that France — a keystone state of the EU — is hurtling toward a new phase of dysfunction and polarization. Few European nations have not been rocked by extreme-right ascendancy. Populist-right leaders in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic launched the "Patriots for Europe" parliamentary bloc, with an anti-immigrant, anti-European integration and anti-Ukraine agenda. Britain is a rare nation bucking this trend, with the election on Thursday set to deliver in a center-left majority.

Ahead of NATO’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington, nervous Europeans are gazing across the Atlantic with increasing certainty that Donald Trump is returning to the presidency. Why worry? Because a Trump presidency would spell disaster for Ukraine, given his unabashed affinity for Putin. Trump’s notorious ambivalence to democratic governance norms would furthermore offer succor to autocrats and fascists worldwide. We may be aghast at the Biden administration’s handling of the Gaza conflict, but at least Israel has been gently pressed to allow some aid in. Is there anybody who believes that Trump would lose any sleep if Palestinians were left to starve, or were expelled from their homeland altogether?

No less than the future of the Western world is at stake as progressive and freedom loving people embark on this decisive fight to protect their cherished way of life.

Baria Alamuddin

During his first presidency Trump’s worst impulses were constrained by heavy-hitting ministerial appointments, and even famously hawkish figures such as John Bolton curbed potentially disastrous policy lurches. It was Trump, before Biden, who ordered a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, while seeking to end other American overseas commitments. In the incoming Trump presidency, those appointed would be MAGA yes-men. NATO nations fear the alliance may not survive a further term of Trump unleashed.

The blustering Trump and stumbling Biden in the latest presidential debate did more to discredit Western democracy than Moscow, Tehran or Beijing could ever hope to — a debate so disastrous that many Biden allies are pleading for him to withdraw. If Biden were to step down he would be remembered as a leader who put his nation first: staying and losing would entail historical ignominy as a disastrous president who imperilled US democracy for his own ego.

In another highly significant election contest, “reformist” candidate Masoud Pezeshkian will go up against hardliner Saeed Jalili in the second Iranian presidential election round. Perhaps the decision has been made that an unthreatening candidate — a cardiac surgeon indeed — is less likely to put Tehran in the US’s crosshairs, given the possibility of an impulsive Trump holding the nuclear trigger. The regime’s escalatory language nevertheless persists, with Iran’s UN mission last week warning of “an obliterating war” if Israel embarked on “military aggression” in Lebanon. “A regime that threatens destruction deserves to be destroyed,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz retorted, in no less provocative language.

Macron has warned of the dangers for Europe of an “unreliable America” under Trump’s sway; calling for a “more independent, more sovereign Europe able to defend itself and survive against all threats.” However, at the moment when a new Trump presidency looks imminent, the National Rally’s surge threatens to cut away Macron’s powers to push for European military integration. Nearly 200 French diplomats made a public appeal that “our adversaries will view the victory of the extreme right as a weakening of France” and encouragement “to aggression against Europe.”

As the French cornerstone of the EU and NATO faces collapse, with Germany also grappling with economic weakness and an ascendant far right, and with Britain having already quit the EU altogether, European freedoms and democracy have scarcely ever looked in more peril. Macron warned this year: “Our Europe is mortal … it can die, and whether it does depends entirely on our choices.”

My recent days in Europe served as a reminder that, compared with the US, this is a highly educated, cosmopolitan and cultured continent, populated by sizable demographics who are well aware of the menace posed by all-pervasive xenophobic right-wing autocracy. No less than the future of the Western world is at stake as progressive and freedom loving people embark on this decisive fight to protect their cherished way of life.

Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.


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