Democracy in France


Every one of my acquaintance (and yes, I’m ignoring you right over there) is pretty pleased with the results of the French presidential election yesterday. The victory of youthful, energetic and centrist Macron over the darling of the far-right, Le Pen, has made us all sigh with relief. But, maybe we shouldn’t sigh too soon.

Quite apart from the fact that 11 million French voters – some perhaps taken in by Le Pen’s questionable pretence at temperance – wound up supporting the former and soon-to-be-again leader of the National Front is hardly cause for celebration. Macron still has a tough road ahead to try to forge some sort of government out of the congress that will be elected in a month’s time. His own fledgling En Marché party is unlikely to win a majority and, while the National Front is unlikely to turn its moderate (funny word that) success yesterday into a substantial block of seats, it will be tough to bring together deputies and senators of both the left and right into a cohesive government. And if Macron fails, Le Pen will be back again in 5 years and she just might win.

But what may be more troubling about the election is the underlying fault in western democracy that seems to grow more serious with each passing year. Large numbers of French voters simply stayed home, unwilling to vote for anyone who wasn’t their first choice. Some conservatives but many more on the left were clearly prepared for a Le Pen victory if they couldn’t have the candidate of their choice.

This was the exact same phenomenon that occurred in the last American election – which saw some Saunders supporters stay home (though in the end not that many) and some apparently vote for Trump.  While everyone has the right to vote or not vote as they see fit, it is an odd thing for people to vote for someone the polar opposite of who they originally supported as seems to be the case where some far left voters in France swung over to the far right.

This is a bit like people who say they like ice cream but only if it is butterscotch. No other ice cream will do. People! That is crazy. Even vanilla ice cream is better than on ice cream. I mean, ICE CREAM!

And democracy is a lot like that row of ice cream (and, heaven forbid, sherbet) containers. We all have our favorites – and some of us of course are lactose intolerant and hate ice cream – but we are usually willing to settle for our second or third choices. And democracy is much the same. If you only have two choices – surely there is one that is better than the other.

Of course, this is a bit facetious. Democracy doesn’t taste nearly as good as ice cream. After voting, I’ve often had a bitter taste in my mouth. And sometimes when I watch the necessary compromises that politicians have to make in a world where we all have different interests but we still have to get things done, I get an ice cream headache.

But a world without ice cream or democracy? Now that I wouldn’t want to imagine at all.

And that’s ten minutes