I rediscovered hope with the election in France

Members of the U.S.-based NGO AVAAZ celebrate after Emmanuel Macron was elected French president, Paris, 8 May 2017 (EPA/Etienne Laurent)

This is the second of four articles by students on France’s presidential election.

By Snow Guilfoyle

“Mais c’est n’importe quoi!” I shouted across the dinner table.

After nine months in France, I had come to embrace the nation’s passion for politics. Finally, I was no longer afraid to yell at my stubborn, 19-year-old host brother when he told me he would cast a vote blanc — a blank vote — in the second round of the nation’s presidential election.

With a blank ballot, a citizen is saying no candidate should be elected.  Proponents say the blank ballot offers disgruntled citizens a chance to participate in politics and to express dissatisfaction when they don’t feel well represented.

But it is a dangerous shout of dissatisfaction.

I told my host brother — a member of the French family I am living with this year — that these elections were different and a blank ballot could help the wrong candidate win. By refusing to choose centrist Emmanuel Macron over far-right leader Marine Le Pen, my host brother was putting his personal disapproval of the choice above the greater need to bar a xenophobe from winning election to the nation’s highest office.

I explained to him how important these elections were and how crucial it was to choose the right candidate. In my own country, I had seen voters who equated Donald Trump with Hillary Clinton help the Republican billionaire win by withholding their votes.

I was fearful that French voters, like those in America, would grasp neither the gravity of the situation nor the importance of supporting Macron. A declaration of dissatisfaction was selfish, just about the same as not voting at all.

In the end, nearly one in 10 registered voters cast blank or spoiled ballots. Added to the 25 percent who abstained, the pool of disenchanted and unmotivated voters represented one third of the electorate who ended up choosing neither candidate.

My pessimistic expectations for France proved wrong.

Then, when I learned that Macron had won, I first felt relief. I was so pleased to see that my new home shared my values and that I wasn’t in another country with another Trump.

But then I felt a pang of jealousy. I had been so caught up in my comparisons of the French and U.S. elections that I had forgotten how different the French are from Americans.

I had assumed open-minded social values were crumbling around the world and that after Brexit and Trump, France would inevitably embrace chauvinistic, nationalist politics.

I now grasped that my country had voted for Trump on its own, not as part of a global chain reaction that would destroy unprejudiced, compassionate societies.

I had thought I could blame the world for what had happened in America. I had failed to understand that it was not an inexorable global dynamic that brought Trump into power, but rather American voters.

So my pessimistic expectations for France proved wrong, and in the end I cannot be happier for my adopted country. Voters rejected the bigotry and hatred that emerged in the U.S. election. I like to think it was inspired by our U.S. failures.

As an American, I have rediscovered hope, and with it a newfound desire to resist the bigotry and racism that emerged with the election of Trump — my American Le Pen.

(The views are the author’s.)


Snow Guilfoyle is a U.S. national who is spending her penultimate year of high school studying in Rennes, France with the School Year Abroad program. She comes from New York City and will return to the St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire for the next academic year. She hopes to spend another year living in France after graduating.

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