After the stunning Brexit referendum and Donald Trump's election in the United States, all eyes shifted to the land of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" to see what modern democracy held in store, as French voters cast their ballots in the April 23 first round of the presidential election. And it did not disappoint, with France's two main political parties falling short, while centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron came in first with 23.7% of the vote followed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the National Front party with 21.5% of ballots.
We thought it was worth asking what will happen when President Trump comes marching into Paris to meet the new French head of state. Last week, it was Macron who'd won the spring 2017 election. Here we imagine a near future where voters in the May 7 runoff have chosen Le Pen, who is set to shake things up right away by welcoming Trump for a flash summit in southern France.
May 20, 2017*
He had been the first head of state to congratulate her. The shock outcome had taken longer than usual to take shape, but as soon as the final results, just before midnight, showed Marine Le Pen ahead of Emmanuel Macron with just 50,02% of the vote, Donald Trump had called her to organize his first official visit to France. It was Trump's controversial strategist Stephen Bannon, a secret advisor to Le Pen during her campaign, who insisted that the meeting take place right away. The symbolism would be clear for all to see.
The date was set for one week after her inauguration, which was notable less for her speech than for the moment when outgoing President François Hollande tripped on the red carpet as he left the Elysée palace for the last time.
Trump's victory in the U.S. had been the boost that Le Pen needed to win.
Like those of Trump, the French nationalist leader's first days in office were extremely busy. Sure, she'd won the presidency, but to really be able to govern, she would have to secure a majority at the parliamentary elections set for the following month. For that, she could only count on herself, her party, and a small fraction of the former center-right party Les Républicains — which had broken apart after its crushing defeat — against a coalition of all opposition forces, put together to "save the values of the Republic."
There was little doubt that Trump's victory in the U.S. had been the boost that Le Pen needed to win, as she campaigned on being a "woman of my word," vowing to remake France from the bottom up: bringing down the eurozone, pulling out of the European Union, banning immigrants from North Africa. But Le Pen also knew that her success once in office would depend on external factors, and she had to move fast to establish herself as a leading figure of a new world order. The hope was that Trump, and a surprise guest, would help her do just that.
As many had feared, the far right-wing victory ignited a violent protest movement that spread to virtually all major French cities, with anti-fascist groups smashing windows and setting cars and trash cans on fire in response to what one described as "the second coming of Hitler, but with blonde hair, no mustache, no penis." In the banlieues, on the rugged city outskirts, the situation remained surprisingly calm, a fact largely due to the local drug lords' specific orders to small-time delinquents not to give the police any excuse to come and interfere with their business, aware as they were that any leniency they might have benefited from under the last presidency was now sure to be over.
The ongoing protests and the movement's visible radicalization in Paris quickly forced Le Pen to reconsider the location of their meeting. Instead of the Elysée palace, she opted for the remote Fort de Brégançon, which used to be the French president's official retreat, on the Mediterranean coast. The whole Le Pen family was there when the Trumps arrived at the fort for their two-day stay, from the patriarch, Jean-Marie — back in his daughter's good graces after having helped her finance a costly campaign — to her young, ambitious niece and likely successor Marion.
The protagonists were all smiles in public as well as in private, despite a perceived mistrust between Marion and Ivanka. The local newspaper reported on the American first lady's "European grace," but also noted the president's second-born son, Eric Trump, had turned "even paler" at the sight of the calf's head served for dinner. Still, little could dampen the mood. Clearly, this was an evening to celebrate and relax before what they all knew would turn out to be a historic day in modern politics.
Today is the day when we, together, begin to make the world great again
From very early the next morning, a rumor started circulating in Parisian newsrooms that Vladimir Putin was on his way to the Fort de Brégançon. The rumor was confirmed shortly after 9 a.m. when the Russian president and his delegation reached the heavily guarded site. Speculation was rife for most of the day, with experts making the talk-show rounds with their prophecies about what would come out of this secretive and most momentous of summits.
Live TV footage of helicopters above the castle quickly cut to the meeting room inside where Le Pen emerged at precisely 4 p.m. for the news conference. She was flanked on her left by Trump, on her right by Putin. "Today is the day when we, together, begin to make the world great again," Le Pen said in heavily accented English. With her American and Russian counterparts stone-faced but beaming, the new French president returned to her native language to give an address meant to alter global relations for decades to come.
"We have two simple messages to share. First, today hereby marks the death of the European Union. Second, for those in the Muslim world who wish us harm, we are coming for you next."
But this new populist triumvirate had made a grave miscalculation: the real threat to their nations' security was farther to the East. What would come to be known as the "Cyber Pearl Harbor" was launched just eight days later by a computer programmer on a cruiser in the South China Sea, though the effects would take three years to come to light. Putin, for his part, found out far earlier than his new French and American allies — and he had good reason not to share the news with either one.
*True Fiction: A narrative experiment for an era of fake news and hard-to-believe reality. (This piece was published on Feb. 8, 2017)