They were the swiftest changes in government ever seen in modern France. The defeated president, Francois Hollande, refused to participate in the traditional ceremony and left the Elysee Palace at one minute to midnight on May 14, 2017. At one minute past midnight the elected president, Marine Le Pen, entered the palace. She was declared the winner in a very short ceremony, and in the morning she already embarked on a whirlwind trip to Europe, deliberately skipping over London and Berlin in favor of Warsaw and Budapest, where she declared that France was closing its borders and dropping out of the Schengen Agreement. A week later Le Pen was already holding at a festive dinner in the Elysee Palace to host the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, who complimented “the courageous leader of France, my friend Marine.”
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Still, most of the president’s energy was devoted to the burning domestic issues. The two weeks between the first round of the election and the second and decisive round were some of the most difficult in the history of the Fifth Republic. After a year and a half of quiet, and only one month after Hollande cancelled the state of emergency that was declared after the terror attacks of November 2015, terror struck again. The effect of the coordinated massacres in Marseille, Lyon and Paris was dizzying. Le Pen took off and won almost 60 percent of the votes.
In order to handle the state of emergency Le Pen appointed her young associate, Florian Philippot, as prime minister. He formed a government composed solely of members of the National Front and conducted a cleansing campaign in the civil service. One after another the senior public officials who were suspected of sympathy for the old regime were pushed aside and replaced by party loyalists, of whom there were many more than expected.
The only gesture towards the left, if it can be called that, was the appointment of writer Michele Houellebecq as culture minister. Houellebecq seemed happy about the uproar caused by his agreement to be a member of Le Pen’s government, describing her as “the new Joan of Arc for whom we longed.”
Confuting the predictions of pundits, the new president did not moderate her rhetoric upon assuming office, explaining that she could not “betray the French people who put their trust in me.” The result was increasing unrest in the suburbs despite the newly declared state of emergency, and a wave of strikes. Le Pen reacted with draconian legislation that led to a suspension of the right to strike and the mobilization of another 10,000 policemen.
But when the Paris stock exchange had declined for six straight months, Le Pen tried to take a step toward national reconciliation. These attempts blew up when the much admired soccer star Zinedine Zidane, who was invited to a meeting at the Elysee, declared that he was renouncng his French citizenship and requesting political asylum in Spain. Jewish philosophers Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkelkraut also left France for Israel, “our new-old home.” Another 50,000 Jews emigrated from France along with them in 2017.
The above scenario, which could be expanded into a not-quite-fictional novel (as Houellebecq did recently in his book “Submission”), is still a nightmare for most of the French. But Marine Le Pen’s political power is on the upswing. Even if the probability that she will be elected to the Elysee remains low, the idea is beginning to infiltrate among both the voters and the elites. The political solution for defeating the National Front that is being proposed by the left and the right — a tactical vote for the rival on the right or the left in order to block Le Pen — has been practically exhausted.
Fear of the catastrophe that her election is liable to bring remains the only significant obstacle facing Le Pen. If France does not pull itself together and offer its citizens a new social alliance, the inconceivable is liable to turn into a nightmarish reality for France, Europe and the entire freedom-loving world.