Crook vs. Fascist: France 2002, USA 2016

In their 2002 presidential election, French voters were forced to choose between Jacques Chirac, a man at the center of numerous corruption scandals later convicted on several counts, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, a rightwing demagogue decried for spouting racist views. Protestors across France were noted as saying they had to "vote for the crook not the fascist."

Now that we've come to the end of the 2016 US election season—the unbearable, over 18-month-long election season—I'm really just surprised I didn't see more comparisons between America today and France fourteen years ago. There are a few pieces out there on the similarity, (one of the best is this one), but none seem to have gained attention in the US media.

how Le Pen beat socialist Jospin in the first round to qualify
for the second (French presidential election, 2002)
Le Pen's victory in making it through the first round of the French election and Trump's victory in the Republican primary both came as huge surprises many people. Both victories were fueled by white citizens who felt threatened by immigrants and economically marginalized. Neither man espoused extreme free-market policy positions, instead promoting a paternalistic and nationalistic vision of taking care of their country. Both men spewed hatred toward minorities, repulsing many voters.

At the same time, every single American has to admit that Hillary Clinton is a crook: She is clearly, indisputably a dishonest woman, if not a lawbreaker as well. It doesn't matter how many unjustified attacks she has weathered (and will continue to weather, after she becomes President): Clinton has lied throughout her political career, breaking promises and betraying the people's trust wherever she saw fit. The facts are in the record, and even Hillary's aides complained about her problem with honesty in emails published by WikiLeaks.

It remains to be seen whether Clinton's lies and potential lawbreaking will ever catch up with her, as Chirac's did in 2011 when he was convicted (though the prison sentence was suspended). Nevertheless, it seems clear that Clinton will win the election with many voters supporting her as the "lesser of two evils"—the crook, not the fascist.

There are, of course, many differences between these two elections in two quite distinct electoral systems. France has a diverse multiparty system, and Jean-Marie Le Pen was only ever leader of his own party, le Front National—a party that has yet to control French government. Donald Trump, meanwhile, was able to seize the nomination of the nation's most powerful political party (considering Republican dominance of governorships, state legislatures, and Congress). In addition, over 80% of French voters chose the crook over the fascist in 2002, while the race between Trump and Clinton promises to be far, far closer.

Thankfully, the US electoral system—flawed though it is—does not actually force voters to choose between the lesser of two evils, as does France's two-round voting system. Instead, Americans have the option of voting for third party candidates. It turns out we don't have to choose between the crook and the fascist after all, even if we know one of them will win the presidency.

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