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For thirty years, if you want to win an election in France, don’t have any programme! If you have the misfortune to publish one, people would at best talk about it for three days and then move on; and in two months’ time they would ask you why you don’t have one! So it’s useless to try to understand people’s real needs, to debate with them and with experts, to build serious, thoughtful, balanced, quantified, realistic proposals. It is more than useless, it is outdated.
For at least three decades in France, this kind of exercise has bored everyone. And experience even shows that, since 1988, no one has been elected with a programme.
Everyone has understood since then that, from now on, with a programme, there are only blows to be taken: a clumsy proposal, an erroneous statistic, an ill-advised expression, an unforgivable omission, and it is the whole programme that is discredited; and the candidate with it. No, really, a programme annoys everyone and it’s just an opportunity to take a beating. There is nothing to be gained.
Everyone has also understood that the only thing to do to be elected in this country, which is so cultured, so intelligent, so rational, so politicised, is no longer for a candidate to talk about social projects, the defence of values, progress in education, the improvement of the health care system, and so on, improvement of the health system, reform of the state, a company statute, ecological taxation, a children’s policy, yes, anything of that kind, very boring, it’s just to make sure that he exists, in every possible way. In every moment. Because it’s by existing that you climb in the polls, that you become credible, and that you get more and more media exposure, which provides even more ways to exist, and to become credible, and to end up being elected.
Now, to exist, the recipe is known: everyone knows that, in politics, to exist is not to bore people with realistic proposals. Especially not. It’s about pandering to people’s fears. It’s about provoking, antagonising, criticising, pitting one’s opponents against the other, saying as many enormities, lies and untruths as possible, provided that they comfort people in their most primal fears.
In order to exist at best, it is necessary to identify people’s fears as closely as possible. This is not very difficult either: we have known for a long time that what people are most afraid of is to be invaded, to be chased out of their homes, their jobs, their families, by people from elsewhere.
There is no need to propose reforming complex systems, just a simple proposition: the other is our enemy. It is the ‘other’ who caused the economic crisis. It is the “other” that threatens our national identity; it is the “other” that threatens our standard of living. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the election, the ‘other’ is the neighbourhood next door, the town next door, the region next door, the social class next door, the age group next door, the country next door.
This leads to a very simple programme, which must be hammered out in every possible way: get rid of the other.
This recipe (in order to win, you have to flatter fears) has always worked. Even more so today, when those who could have been expected to remain reasonable, and to put forward complex and well thought-out proposals, have also given up the debate of ideas, the preparation of programmes and projects, to be content with participating in the contest of absurd little phrases, delirious invectives, and indisputable lies, initiated by the populists of all stripes. With obviously less talent than those who have been doing this for a long time.
Many media outlets participate, either because it has been their cynical strategy from the beginning to gain an audience, or because they don’t want to risk losing their audience by not broadcasting this stink-bomb contest. And because, in the end, the audience is the only measure of their survival.
Are we doomed to continue sliding down this slope? To suffer the decline that such morals inevitably bring? Are we condemned to the same future as all the countries that, before ours, and to their great misfortune, abandoned themselves to the arms of populists? Will the “dégagisme”, which has been the rule of French political life for more than twenty years, go that far? It is quite possible. It is even, in my opinion, the most likely. Unless we wake up. Now.