“France does not feel like it is entering a season of political turbulence,” says François Valentin in UnHerd. In fact, it barely feels like it’s going through an election at all. As first-round results rolled in on April 10, Paris’s Trocadéro Square was occupied not by “enthusiastic political activists” but by “tired partygoers” and the odd “trampled campaign flier”. Marine Le Pen’s strong showing so far has sparked alarmist headlines across the West, but it “did not worry the locals”. France’s most popular TV channel ran a comedy film, Les Visiteurs, just two hours after official results were announced, “the earliest the channel had ever cut away from its election debrief”.
This “phantom” election will weigh heavily on the French Republic’s health. France’s president commands immense executive power – they can fire their Prime Minister at will and cannot be impeached. Elections ought to be moments of “democratic catharsis”. But while the global media is preoccupied with the dangers of a Le Pen presidency, “the real poison for French democracy” – apathy – “might already be in its veins”. In 2017, pollster Brice Teinturier published a “prophetic” assessment of France’s political mood, in which he demonstrated that just 18% of French people felt any positive emotions about politics (40% felt disappointed, 20% disgusted). The report’s title? Plus Rien à Faire, Plus Rien à Foutre – “don’t care, don’t give a damn”.