Since Donald Trump’s election as US president, I’ve felt like we’re hurtling along a foreign frontier on board a runaway train that’s heading for the cliffs.
Brexit was bad enough but Trump’s presidential victory takes us down an even scarier route. His appointment of the alt-right nationalist Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, is another ominous sign that the Trump administration will be populated by a dangerous concoction of white supremacists, nationalists, Islamophobes, pro-lifers, climate change deniers, protectionists and other mercurial forces whose self-interests clash with those who prefer to live in tolerant, liberal societies.
If speculation about Sarah Palin’s elevation to the Trump cabinet prevails, his team will be reinforced by a gas-guzzling oil digger bent on rolling back essential environmental protection programmes.
And this wrecking ball is swinging back towards Europe again with next year’s elections in several EU countries spelling more trouble ahead.
The next political upheaval could well be the victory of France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen in next Spring’s presidential elections in France. Polls (and you can’t believe them anymore) indicate that, while Le Pen may well make it to a second round run-off election, she won’t ultimately succeed in making it to the Élysée Palace. But, the pollsters and mainstream media aren’t reliable Bellwethers these days when it comes to accurately predicting future political outcomes.
Given the earth-shattering outcomes in this year’s UK and US elections, we have every reason to believe a Le Pen victory is also possible. The discontent that flamed across places like Boston and South Holland in East England, and the Rust Belt states of the US, also exists in France. A disgruntled working class, growing inequalities between rich and poor and educated and uneducated, rising Euroscepticism, disdain for the ruling political elites, fears about job security, globalisation and immigration all point to growing support for an overthrow of the existing status quo.
A Pew Research Poll published last June, showed that 61% of the French have an unfavourable view of the EU. The poll also found that 70% of the French disapproved of the way the European Union is dealing with the refugee issue and 66% of French people disapproved of the EU’s handling of the economy.
And France has the added dimension of an extremely serious terrorist threat on its doorstep. It’s barely a year since the Paris attacks that left at least 130 dead and hundreds injured. And there are no signs that threat is waning. The French have real reason to fear Islamic extremism in their midst. Marine Le Pen stokes those fears with her tough anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiments resonating with her supporters. Like Donald Trump and Ukip’s Nigel Farage, she is an adept evaluator of populist fears and she is similarly emboldened by a growing acceptance of intolerant rhetoric.
Le Pen who leads France’s Front National party, is a shrewd operator who’s cleverly capitalising on the winds of change sweeping across the Western world. You could say her time has come and she’s eyeing the prize with mounting confidence. She was quick out of the traps after the Brexit vote with her promises of a Frexit referendum if she were to become Madame President.
Marine is a much more astute communicator than her father Jean-Marie le Pen who founded the National Front in the 1970s. He was eventually kicked out of the party after his anti-Semitic, xenophobic rants caused too much embarrassment. Marine Le Pen is a much more savvy operator and a much more able communicator.
Last weekend, during an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr she declared that Trump’s victory was, as she put it, an additional stone in the building of a new world destined to replace the old one. She said Trump had made possible what had previously been impossible.
In previous interviews Le Pen has said that the Brussels wall would come down like the Berlin wall.
We should take her warnings very seriously. If Le Pen wins in 2017, there is no reason to believe she will not follow through on her vow to hold a referendum on France’s membership of the EU. And if the current political trends that led to a Brexit and Trump victory prevail in France, then we might well see a founding EU lynchpin checking out of the European Union.
If that happens, then the future of the EU will be left hanging on the flimsiest of threads.