Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ghoulish massacre in Bucha has broken conventional wisdom that a tyrant must have a toothbrush mustache to be branded a fascist.
And nowhere outside Ukraine are Putin’s barbarous crimes oozing more than in France, where polls this week indicate 2022 fascist presidential candidate and Putin fangirl Marine Le Pen might capture nearly 49 percent of the vote in a likely runoff against incumbent Emmanuel Macron on April 24. “This is the first time two finalists are tested so close,” according to a Harris Interactive poll.
Le Pen styles herself a populist and bristles at being called a fascist. But all the perfume in France can’t marinate Le Pen’s stench. Neither can the French justice system, which eight years ago ruled that it’s legal to describe her as a fascist. “If the term ‘fascist’ can have insulting connotations when used outside of any political context or if accompanied by other demeaning terms, it has, on the other hand, no insulting character when employed between political opponents on a political subject,” the judge declared.
The classical fascism of the 1930s nowadays arrives in many shapes, sizes, colors, and countries, all of which Le Pen continues to camouflage with worthless guarantees that her party of hobgoblins in designer suits are against racism and forcible suppression of the opposition.
Putin’s United Russia Party spews the same disinformation to its pliant public, but can Le Pen—whose extreme-right National Front Party in 2014 borrowed 11 million euros from Kremlin-controlled banks—convince the French that she’s anything more than just another narcissistic grifter making her third stumble at the presidency as Putin’s war poodle?
Nothing is so venerable in politics as a short memory.
Le Pen last year defended the ultra-right group Génération Identitaire when the government shut that Nazi-saluting mob down for hate speech and creating private militias to target migrants. The lady from Neuilly-sur-Seine at the same time supported a group of retired French generals who wrote two open letters to Macron threatening a military coup.
The generals warned that France was on the cusp of civil war, proclaimed patriotism dead on the vine, and complained that the country percolated with anti-white racism. Meanwhile, one of Le Pen’s advisers, Damien Rieu, walked the streets wearing a pig mask to protest the sale of Halal meat.
“I know the presidential campaign is developing actively in France,” Putin told Le Pen during their 2017 meeting in the Kremlin. “Of course,” he added glibly, “we do not want to influence events in any way.”
Le Pen repeated her support for Putin’s assault on Crimea and her opposition to EU sanctions in response to the annexation. If elected, Le Pen pledged in 2017, “I would envisage lifting the sanctions quite quickly.”
She became a full-time cast member of the Kremlin’s horror show 38 days after Putin invaded Ukraine, telling a French primetime TV news broadcast on March 31 that Putin “could become an ally of France again” if the war ends. “Russia’s not going anywhere,” she explained to the French public broadcaster France 2. “I’ve always said that a great power can be an ally in a number of situations.”
In the bloody riptide of Ukraine, Ernest Hemingway’s description of the genesis of a fascist is no longer shrouded in literary ambiguity. “There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find out when the time comes,” the Nobel laureate wrote in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
That time has come. Yet democracy’s conventional-wisdom makers continue to use cautious language to describe Le Pen’s candidacy—and Putin’s Ukrainian genocide. How can anyone other than a propagandist Russian troll look at wheelbarrows of bodies shot in the head and modify such shameful, palpable evidence with “alleged?” There comes a time when phrases like “reasonable to believe” and “yet-to-be-proven” are the greater obscenities.
“The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine,” fascist marketing specialist Joseph Goebbels told his Führer. “Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious.”
But allied tanks won’t be rumbling into Moscow to drag the Kremlin’s culprits to the International War Crimes Tribunal. Putin is not going to swallow a hydrogen-cyanide capsule and then shoot himself in the head with a Walther PPK. The ruble is bouncing back, Dubai and Istanbul are gleefully welcoming Russia’s moneyed desperados. Putin’s oil and natural gas—some $22 billion worth since the invasion—continues to flow.
So there’s no point in kidding ourselves. Amazon could have delivered the weapons Volodymyr Zelensky needs faster than NATO. The boundless blind faith in the Ukrainian military exorcizing Putin any time soon is beginning to fade now, the lingering convictions of Western defiance are beginning to be tempered with despair, ballooning energy prices on both sides of the Atlantic, and the specter of inflation on a speed trip.
And if you believe the polls, the idea that Marine Le Pen will be the next President of France is not balmy; cautioned Macron’s former prime minister, Édouard Philippe: “Ms. Le Pen can win.”
The central horror of the Putin-Le Pen combo is the risk of a toxic cascade effect on the world’s democracies and the future of Ukraine’s hard-fought battle to survive. Had Hemingway been around to chronicle Putin’s fiesta of fascism, the book most certainly would have been titled The Scum Also Rises.