Democracy had a good day April 24. In France, voters rejected far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and decided to remain on a pro-European Union course with President Emmanuel Macron. In Slovenia, far-right Prime Minister Janez Jansa did not secure enough seats in parliamentary elections to remain prime minister. His replacement is undetermined at this time, but his defeat stopped his path to authoritarian rule.
My guess is that the war in Ukraine had something to do with these outcomes. People around the world are seeing what is at stake when democracy dies, either by election or by invasion. If anything, Ukraine has reminded the world of the benefits and freedoms of democracy over what the far-right folks have to offer with Russia serving as exhibit A.
Unfortunately, in America, we are still figuring this out as over 40 percent of Americans still support a political party that wants to overturn the last presidential election and, thus, American democracy itself. The midterm elections of 2022 will say much about the future of democracy in America.
French President Emmanuel Macron won a second term with 59 percent of the vote and democratic governments across Europe and in the United States celebrated. His opponent, Le Pen, like former President Donald Trump, had expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and was anti-immigration. Also like Trump, Le Pen was not a fan of NATO or the 27-nation European Union. France’s future in NATO and the EU were both at stake, as well as France’s continued support of Ukraine against Putin’s invasion.
The people of France decided to stay securely in the European Union and sent a clear message to Putin, who has been working to sway the presidential election in his favor, as he did in the United States in 2016.
In Slovenia, the centrist Freedom Movement, led by Robert Golob, won 34% of the vote compared to 24% percent for Jansa. Golob may be the next prime minister if he can build a coalition with other political parties. This was a significant blow to Jansa, who was looking for a fourth term in office. Many saw him as the next Viktor Orban of Hungary, an autocrat recently re-elected for a fourth term. Orban has systematically shut down democracy in Hungary. In fact, he helped fund Jansa’s campaign in an effort to stifle democracy in his corner of Europe.
Jansa is also a big Trump fan. After Trump lost his reelection bid in 2020, Jansa tweeted, “It’s pretty clear that the American people have elected Trump” while accusing the media of ignoring the “facts” of Trump’s victory.
Isn’t it interesting how all of these would-be dictators admire and support one another?
Of the two elections, France was the main concern for those looking to protect democracy in Europe against the forces of Russia. A defeat of Macron would have been a setback for a united Europe and NATO at the worst possible time. Needless to say, Putin would have been inspired and encouraged to see Macron defeated as free European nations help arm and support Ukraine’s military against Russian aggression.
While France and Slovenia are upholding democratic values, Republicans in the United States, without any evidence, continue to try and sell the idea that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. It wasn’t and they know it, as documented by numerous emails from congressional Republicans, but their determination to secure power is stronger than their desire to uphold our democratic values.
More than 2,000 text messages from Mark Meadows, former chief of staff for Donald Trump, turned over to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, revealed an organized attempt by Trump, members of his White House staff, members of Congress, and others to overthrow the 2020 presidential election so that Trump could remain in power.
While the rest of the world is fighting – literally, in some cases – to keep democracy alive, some Republicans are fighting for a Putin-like figure to rule again here.
Tom Zirpoli is a professor and program coordinator of the Human Services Management program graduate program at McDaniel.edu college. He writes from Westminster and his column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at email@example.com.