Elections in France and US puts Western democracy at peril

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France

In the shadow of escalating political instability, conversations in France have unveiled a widespread anxiety about the future of Western democracy. Influential cultural figures, intellectuals, and second-generation citizens alike have voiced concerns about the country’s identity as political extremes gain traction. With the nation on the brink of high-stakes snap parliamentary elections, there’s a strong sense of urgency to ensure that every vote counts.

President Emmanuel Macron has been outspoken about the potential for civil war if his “extreme” opponents secure a parliamentary majority. The far-right National Rally is on course to become the largest party in parliament following the second round of elections, a scenario brought about by the right’s dominant performance in recent European Parliament elections. Macron called for snap elections in response, but the left-wing New Popular Front also appears poised for a strong showing, threatening the stability of Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance.

A prominent French academic commented on the high-risk nature of Macron’s strategy, suggesting that success would cement his reputation as a brilliant strategist, while failure would mark him as the person who dismantled the traditional party system and destabilized the Fifth Republic’s institutions. Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, has threatened to reduce France’s support for Ukraine and challenge Macron’s control over defense policy. Macron, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, contrasts sharply with Le Pen’s long-standing connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin, leading to accusations of her being influenced by the Kremlin.

The financial markets have reacted nervously to radical economic proposals from both the left and right, further destabilized by a campaign marked by antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Whether the outcome is a far-right or far-left government, or a hung parliament, the consensus is that France-a crucial member of the EU-is heading towards increased dysfunction and polarization.

Across Europe, few nations have been untouched by the rise of the extreme right. Populist-right leaders in Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic have formed the “Patriots for Europe” parliamentary bloc, advocating for anti-immigrant, anti-European integration, and anti-Ukraine policies. The United Kingdom stands as a rare exception to this trend, with recent elections likely to deliver a center-left majority.

As NATO’s 75th anniversary summit approaches in Washington, European nations are increasingly anxious about the potential return of Donald Trump to the US presidency. A Trump presidency is feared to spell disaster for Ukraine due to his overt admiration for Putin. Trump’s previous ambivalence toward democratic governance norms and his affinity for autocrats and fascists worldwide add to the concern. Although many are critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the Gaza conflict, at least there has been some pressure on Israel to allow aid into the region. There is widespread skepticism that Trump would show any such restraint or concern for Palestinian welfare.

During his first term, Trump’s worst impulses were somewhat mitigated by key ministerial appointments, with figures like John Bolton curbing potentially disastrous policies. Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and his attempts to end other overseas commitments preceded similar moves by Biden. However, in a potential second term, Trump is likely to appoint loyalists aligned with his “Make America Great Again” agenda, raising fears that NATO may not survive his presidency.

The recent presidential debate between Trump and Biden, characterized by bluster and incoherence, did more to discredit Western democracy than any actions by Moscow, Tehran, or Beijing could ever achieve. The disastrous nature of the debate has led many Biden allies to urge him to withdraw from the race. Should Biden choose to step down, he might be remembered as a leader who prioritized his nation’s well-being. Staying and losing could result in historical infamy, marking him as a president who jeopardized US democracy for personal ego.

In Iran, the second round of presidential elections will see “reformist” candidate Masoud Pezeshkian face off against hardliner Saeed Jalili. The choice of a less threatening candidate, such as Pezeshkian, a cardiac surgeon, may be strategic, aimed at reducing the likelihood of conflict with the US, especially with the possibility of an impulsive Trump holding the nuclear trigger. Despite this, Iran’s escalatory rhetoric persists, with recent warnings from its UN mission of “an obliterating war” should Israel engage in military aggression in Lebanon. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s response, calling for the destruction of any regime that threatens annihilation, has only heightened tensions.

Macron has emphasized the dangers posed to Europe by an “unreliable America” under Trump, advocating for a more independent and sovereign Europe capable of defending itself. However, the National Rally’s surge threatens to undermine Macron’s efforts to promote European military integration. Nearly 200 French diplomats have publicly appealed, warning that a far-right victory would weaken France and encourage aggression against Europe.

As the foundational pillar of the EU and NATO, France’s potential collapse, coupled with Germany’s economic challenges and the rise of the far right, and the UK’s departure from the EU, places European freedoms and democracy in unprecedented peril. Macron’s warning that “Our Europe is mortal” underscores the gravity of the situation, emphasizing that Europe’s survival hinges on the choices made in these critical times.

The current electoral turmoil in the US and France highlights a broader crisis facing Western democracies. The rise of political extremes, fueled by economic inequality, social media disinformation, and eroding trust in democratic institutions, poses a significant threat to the stability and resilience of the Western world. As France heads into critical elections and the US braces for a potential return of Trump, the stakes have never been higher. The choices made in the coming months will have profound implications for the future of democracy and the preservation of the Western way of life.

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