France has rejected fear. But danger lurks
By Maxine Arnheiter
Dinner parties have become an interesting staple in my life in France, mostly of a political sort.
The blues, reds and whites of the television cast a dull haze over the dining room as a presidential candidate delivers a live speech.
I am surrounded mainly by supporters of the center-right Republicans party. As members of my host family and their friends banter, the names of certain politicians catch my attention.
It is peculiar and discomforting to live in a house full of people whose politics differ radically from mine. I answer questions about my own opinions as gruffly as possible.
“No,” I reply curtly when a friend of my host father asks if I would ever support far-right leader Marine Le Pen. My host brother throws an aggressively quizzical look my way. “Of course you would not support Le Pen,” he says. “Your borders are already protected by Trump’s wall.”
He might not be right, but his comment reminds me that there are political currents being felt around the world.
In France, we hear much the same rhetoric about immigration as in the United States and Britain. I find it odd that some consider me lucky to have a president who is a reality TV star turned leader of rural America, and who has an anti-immigrant mindset.
Somehow, I feel just the opposite.
Reflecting on politics of the past few years, I sense the world is heading in the direction of Le Pen — towards populism, nationalism, xenophobia. Her views on Muslims are reminiscent of Donald Trump’s. It seems an easy conclusion that Le Pen, having instilled fear into voters, will win France’s presidential election.
Dangers still lurk.
Later, I find myself at yet another dinner party, this time with a different ambiance, one of exhaustion, irony and humor at the electoral victory of Emmanuel Macron, at 39 the youngest leader of France since Napoleon.
“How did France manage to confront a situation similar to Trump versus Hillary Clinton, and make the right choice,” I ask myself. “Is the United States retreating in time while the rest of the world moves on?”
Still, dangers lurk. Le Pen’s National Front party made it to the presidential runoff and won its largest number of votes ever. The fight does not end with Macron.
I recall my host brother’s dismissal of my rejection of Le Pen. His fear of immigrants remains commonplace in French society.
I ask myself: Where do we go from here? And how do we address these global fears?
(The views are the author’s.)
Maxine Arnheiter is spending her penultimate year of high school studying at the School Year Abroad program in Rennes, France. Her home is in the U.S. state of Florida, and she aspires to become a politician or a writer.