November 8, 2016, United States: the nation is shocked as populist Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump defeats Hillary Clinton in the electoral college despite losing the popular vote. A nationalist could be defined as one who engages in nativism while claiming to look out for the average citizen of their nation. Trump’s unpredicted success was the result of a nationwide increase in anti-establishment frustration, nativism, and nationalism, often stemming from the feeling of being ignored by the government. But these sentiments weren’t, and aren’t, just characteristic of the United States.
Fast forward to May 7, 2017, in France. Centrist Emmanuel Macron defeated right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, garnering around two-thirds of the vote to Le Pen’s third. Macron, who at 39 years old had previously never run for public office, became the youngest president in the history of France. He also founded his very own centrist party, En Marche!, or “forward”, countering the nativist and nationalist sentiments that Le Pen’s campaign was based on. As a centrist, Macron is a staunch supporter of the European Union, and won under a platform of traditional liberalism, economic reform, and the support of the free market, all in contrast to those that Trump and Le Pen put forth.
So, why does this particular foreign election matter to us? It proves that the global nationalist movement, driven by nativist values and highly detrimental to an open-minded world community, can be suppressed. Marine Le Pen, who draws comparisons to Donald Trump, was the leader of the French National Front party from 2011–17. The party is historically based on racist and anti-Semitic values, as well as populism, nationalism, and nativism. While Le Pen has attempted recently to distance herself from the former, she is anti-immigration, especially with regards to Muslim immigration, and her supporters were known to subscribe to unwelcoming rhetoric. If elected, she planned to remove France from the European Union, reflecting her nationalist beliefs.
For those who oppose nationalism, Macron’s victory is a relief. However, it is troubling that Le Pen advanced to the second round of presidential voting. The fact that she received a third of the vote in the 2017 election, an extreme increase from the meager 18 percent that the National Front won in the 2002 presidential election, is a cause for concern about a rising nationalist movement within France. Although he won the election, President-elect Macron will still have to address social and political divisions where citizens are subject to the feeling of marginalization. Throughout the United States and Europe, globalization, a high unemployment rate, recent waves of immigration, and increases in global terror attacks have led to such feelings of marginalizations, sentiments that candidates like Le Pen and Trump rode upon to their unforeseen performances in their respective elections.
Despite the concerning nature of Marine Le Pen’s rise, the French people did not succumb to the fanaticism that was a major reason for Trump’s victory. They did not allow their country to become the next domino to fall to the Western nationalist movement, serving as an example to show that we can still triumph over nativist sentiments and ensure that our government promotes diversity and tolerance.