John Oliver has a message for France: “Don’t fuck up, too.”On Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight, the British comedian broke down the upcoming French presidential election. With current President François Hollande, a Socialist, enjoying a dismal 4 percent approval rating—due to 10 percent unemployment and a string of terrorist attacks under his watch—voters are yearning for new blood. The two frontrunners are Emmanuel Macron, who is center-left, and Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right National Front.
“Honestly, she is the main reason you should be invested in this election,” Oliver said of Le Pen.
For the uninitiated, Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, co-founded the National Front—a party historically composed of immigrant-loathing white nationalists. Jean-Marie is a Holocaust truther who once dismissed Nazi gas chambers as a mere “point of detail of the history of the Second World War,” and said of a Jewish critic: “We’ll put a batch in the oven next time.” Marine, meanwhile, recently downplayed France’s role in the Holocaust, saying, “I don’t think France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv.” She also claimed that the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime “was not France,” adding, “I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France.”The Vel d’Hiv roundup came when the French police detained 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, at the Winter Stadium—or Vel d’Hiv—in Paris. They were then transferred to concentration camps in Paris, as well as Auschwitz. “By the end of September 1942, almost 38,000 Jews had been deported to Auschwitz from France. In 1945, only some 780 of them remained alive,” according to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial center. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Le Pen’s comments “showed her true colors.”
While the youth of France have responded to Le Pen’s message of “France First,” promising to reduce French unemployment by making it more expensive for businesses to hire non-citizens, she is wildly xenophobic.Oliver threw to a 2012 interview of an unhinged Le Pen on French television saying, “Would you accept 12 illegal immigrants moving into your flat?! You wouldn’t. On top of that, they start to remove the wallpaper! Some of them would steal your wallet and brutalize your wife…”“Hold on: Brutalizing your wife and stealing your wallet, again, that’s just boilerplate racism. But ‘people are coming to take my wallpaper’ is something a crazy person says,” quipped Oliver. “No one wants your wallpaper, you catastrophically weird person!”
If that weren’t enough, Le Pen hopes to ban the wearing of hijabs, yarmulkes, and turbans in public; any conspicuous show of religious belief would be outlawed. Despite its not-so-latent racism, Le Pen’s National Front party has managed to win several seats at the local and national level, which explains why many are calling this upcoming French presidential election a battle for the future of Europe. If Le Pen wins and is granted her wish of France leaving the European Union, then the EU will likely fragment.
It’s particularly challenging for American and British people to watch because, well, we’ve seen this show before—and it isn’t pretty.
“One of the frustrating things about watching this unfold from America is this feels a little like déjà vu: a potentially destabilizing populist campaigning on anti-immigrant rhetoric who rages against the elites despite having a powerful father and inherited wealth,” said Oliver, comparing Le Pen to U.S. President Donald Trump. All the experts, however, say a Le Pen win couldn’t possibly happen. But recent polls showing that around one-third of French voters may abstain could lead to Le Pen’s incredibly motivated base turning out and propelling her to victory—just like Trump.
“You in France love nothing more than acting like you are better than Britain and America. Well, now is your chance to prove that,” said Oliver. “Because we made populist, nativist choices with Brexit and Trump, and to be honest, it’s not working out so great for us so far. And now you have a populist, nativist choice of your own, and just imagine how superior you could feel if you don’t make the same mistake that we did.”
Oliver then addressed the French in their native language—that is, in French, in black and white, while sipping wine and puffing a cigarette at a cozy bistro:
“Hello, France. I know a British man speaking on an American television show about the Republic of France is basically French kryptonite,” said Oliver. “But please—listen: Britain and America fucked up. Don’t fuck up, too. Marine Le Pen is—how do you say in French? A demagogic asshole. A monstrous, demagogic asshole. You’re better than this. This is your chance to live up to the French philosophy of the Enlightenment. To show the whole world that the French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity go together, like… Larry Skywalker and, of course, that weird bear”—he said, holding up dolls of Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca.
“Help us, France. You’re our only hope.”