John Oliver On Why We Should Care About France


John Oliver talks about nationalism, populism, looming elections, and why France’s political situation seems like a terrible case of déjà vu.

Yes, seriously, we’re going to talk about the French presidential election. Why, you might ask, should anyone outside of France or the European Union care? Of course, if you’re even a halfway awake observer of the current political turmoil in the United States and United Kingdom, you may already know why.

The truth is, this election could be a turning point in European history. After Britain’s Brexit vote in 2016, the fate of the European Union became suddenly unclear. The results of the French vote could either spell out the EU’s salvation or its doom.

So, who are the people campaigning to lead France? It’s certainly bound to be a tough job, given current President Francois Hollande’s shockingly low approval rating of 4%. John Oliver also pointed out that political candidates face a hail of baking ingredients, including multiple bags of flour to the face, as well as an egg or two.

Who wants to run France?

Right now, there are 11 contenders. Though Oliver had fun pointing out some of the more, shall we say, strange candidates — one has argued that Queen Elizabeth II is running an international drug ring, while the other is, in Oliver’s words, “almost offensively French” — only four have a real chance of winning.

One, Francois Fillon, has fallen back from a promising lead thanks to accusations of financial misconduct. Jean-Luc Melenchon, a far-right candidate, is perhaps a little too into the idea of holograms to make it past the first round of voting on April 23.

As of now, there are two candidates who will likely face off in the second round of voting, which will occur on May 7. The first, Emmanuel Macron, is the current favorite. He has little political experience, is “generally inoffensive,” and about as centrist as he can get. He also married his teacher, who is twenty years older than him. Far be it for us to shame someone for their personal life, exactly, but it’s certainly worth an eyebrow-raise.

Marine Le Pen and France’s nationalistic tendencies

The second candidate, Marine Le Pen, is the most concerning of all, argued Oliver. Her father was Jean-Marie Le Pen, a “deeply unpleasant human being” who dismissed Nazi gas chambers as a “mere detail” and questioned the validity of the Holocaust.

To be fair, Marine kicked her father out of their far-right National Front party. She’s since spent a lot of time rehabilitating the party and putting herself at its forefront as an ostensibly refined and reasonable figurehead. However, “elegant presentation does not negate poisonous content,” according to Oliver.

After all, even a few minutes of a Le Pen speech or interview shows the racism and nationalism that has infected her views. For instance, Le Pen has argued that no one should be able to wear obvious signs of religious affiliation, be it a hijab, a yarmulke, or turban. She also seems overly concerned about the prospect of Muslim immigrants somehow stealing her wallpaper and brutalising her family.

Le Pen is popular amongst unemployed young people, which sounds… wow, this sounds so terribly familiar. In fact, the rising wave of nativist, populist politics represented by Marine Le Pen and the National Front is so familiar that Americans and British people alike may very well feel a deep, dark sense of foreboding.

What will happen?

How will this play out during the looming French elections? While commentators seem unconcerned, many of us have already learned too late not to become too cocky. It is no longer unthinkable that a far-right populist could seize control of a previously progressive country. Anything, even the worst thing, might be possible.

After all, France has been wracked by historic unemployment levels as high as 10 percent. French citizens have also suffered multiple terrorist attacks. Simmering unrest about immigration and refugees, may also contribute to an unexpected election.

Oliver pleaded with French voters to turn out in their elections. Polls indicate that as many as one-third of all eligible voters may abstain. Historically, 80 percent of voters participate in French elections. Oliver discarded with his usual marching band/loud music/shiny balloons approach, instead going for a more subdued black-and-white approach.

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Will it work? Whether or not you feel outright fear or an uneasy sense of déjà vu, we can now only wait.