It is a great day for France, Europe, and western democracy; it is a terrible day for Anglo-American surrender jokes. Today Emmanuel Macron, a capitalist, pro-EU, pro-UN liberal, won the French Presidential election in what appears to be a landslide victory. The French people rejected Marine Le Pen’s nativist campaign in favor of the post-war values and institutions that have given us peace in the West for over 70 years. This is partially a testament to the virtue and reasoned choices of French voters, but it is also the result of Macron’s active defense against the Russian interference that helped convince Britons to leave the EU and Americans to elect Donald Trump. In our era, tyrannical regimes are not using tanks to threaten us; they are using cyber warfare and disinformation campaigns. Tyrants finally have a means to exploit the biggest weakness of democracies – that government leadership is determined by ordinary people who can make extraordinarily bad decisions if you scare them enough. In this war all democracies are equally vulnerable, and it was Britons and Americans, unprotected by the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean, who surrendered without much of a fight and, in America’s case, elected a collaborator. In a volte-face from 1940, it was the French (and the Dutch) who fought back.
The French rejected anti-refugee fearmongering and Russian interference
The French electorate resisted two of the driving forces that brought us Brexit and Donald Trump: fear of Islamic immigration and Russian propaganda. Marine Le Pen’s campaign included anti-Muslim and anti-refugee rhetoric similar to the Trump and Brexit campaigns, but her loss indicates that these narratives were not determinative for a majority of the electorate. France’s successful rejection of anti-refugee rhetoric is notable in light of the fact that it was France, not Britain or the US, who has suffered multiple significant terrorist attacks directed by the Islamic State. While the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando was a significant event, it was one of many “lone wolf” operations undertaken by a disturbed young man. While terrible, it was not an attack by an organized terror network. It is particularly impressive that France elected a pro-EU candidate, given the fodder the nativist right had at its disposal.
It is also promising that the Macron campaign seems to have resisted the cyberattacks from Russian hackers. Macron has taken a bullish position against Russian propaganda; in late April he revoked RT’s press credentials in retaliation for Russian hacks, and in recognition of the fact that it constituted an organ of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine. In the final hours of his campaign, hackers dumped a load of documents they had obtained from a “massive” hack. It turns out that the Macron campaign had prepared for this eventuality. As the Daily Beast reported yesterday, the campaign deliberately planted fake passwords and documents to bamboozle hackers, and ensure that when any document dump came along, it could respond with certainty that some documents were fake. The French government also asked French media outlets to stay away from the document dump for the one day preceding the election. These are calculated controls designed to promote reasoned decisions by French voters and prevent hackers from acquiring an outsized influence. Ultimately, both French voters and French political structures found ways to resist the forces that compromised the British and American electoral systems.
Give the French their due – we’re the cheeseburger eating surrender monkeys
Yes, my friends, after 77 years it is time to surrender our jokes about the surrender of 1940. I don’t know what we’re going to do with all those dropped rifles, never used, but we no longer have the right to taunt anyone for cowardice. This time, at a moment when democracy was threatened, it was Britain and America who, demoralized and rudderless, fell victim to the fearmongering of antidemocratic forces from within and without. This time, France stood up and stemmed the tide of hate in defense of our common values. And we shouldn’t be surprised, despite the many, many digs we have thrown their way since 1940. As Winston Churchill once said, “all my life I have been grateful for the contribution France has made to the culture and glory of Europe, and above all for the sense of personal liberty and the rights of man which has radiated from the soul of France….Show me a moment when I swerved from this conception, and you will show me a moment when I have been wrong.” Contre nous de la tyrannie, L’étendard sanglant est levé. From the center of the new Résistance we will be looking to France for inspiration and leadership. Well done, my friends, and Vive La France!