I was convinced France would follow America’s lead and elect Marine Le Pen. But the French refused to succumb to fear and instead chose hope.
By Alexandra Wells
My host parents and I sat with our eyes glued to the TV — unusual for a French family dinner.
We were awaiting the results of the first round of France’s presidential election on April 23. We watched as the tallies for each candidate mounted, crossing our fingers that far-right leader Marine Le Pen would not make it to the next round.
We muttered our disappointment as we saw Le Pen’s vote climb the ranks to second place at over 21 percent. That meant that in just two weeks’ time, the populist candidate would face Emmanuel Macron, a young centrist politician who launched his political career barely a year ago, for the right to assume the nation’s highest office.
“This cannot be happening again,” I thought to myself. On November 9, 2016, I had awakened to texts of terror after Republican Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election.
Since Trump assumed office, I have seen citizens in my home country rise up in protest against the racist, sexist and nationalist policies of his administration. Trump’s critics accuse him of stoking hatred and division in a country that had been leaning towards progress.
As an American living in France, I was terrified my adopted country would make the same mistake.
“You’re American? Do you like Donald Trump?”
On the day of the U.S. election, many Americans in Rennes, where I am studying for the year, gathered at the Institut Franco-Américain. As we sobbed together, our French friends hugged us in sympathy.
From time to time, inquisitive French still ask me, “You’re American? Do you like Donald Trump?” After the first round of France’s election, I was hoping I would not pose the same patronizingly sympathetic questions of the French.
As I learned about France’s electoral system, I became terrified of the vote blanc — the blank ballot. A French citizen can cast a blank ballot to exercise their right to vote while refusing to endorse any candidate.
My fear, widely shared, was that a large number of blank ballots, cast largely by disgruntled supporters of a leftist candidate who lost in the first round, could tip the scales for Le Pen.
We must remain hopeful.
May 7, 8 pm. I wait anxiously at my computer screen. Suddenly the projected results of the run-off round appear. Macron will be the next president of France.
I breathe a sigh of relief. My adopted country will not succumb to social discord, will not call into question the existence of the European Union, will not choose nationalism, xenophobia and racism over the common good.
Although France has avoided a potential cataclysm, Macron’s market-friendly economic policies could harm the working class. And there are question marks over whether the young president can build a governing majority after parliamentary elections next month.
While the two main center-right and center-left parties — the Republicans and Socialists — were routed in the presidential election, they might yet hold the cards in parliament, making it difficult for Macron to pass far-reaching measures and undercutting his authority.
Still, we must remain hopeful that Macron will lead France on the road to progress.
(The views are the author’s.)
Alexandra Wells is from New York City, spending in her second-to-last year of high school studying in France with the School Year Abroad program. She is interested in international affairs, literature, art and psychology. She speaks English and French, and has studied Hebrew and Turkish. She hopes to become a diplomat, politician or author.