(Swans - August 23, 2010) In his review of Bill Press's latest book, Toxic Talk, Charles Marowitz writes about "right-wing orators and demagogues" -- the likes of "Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Lou Dobbs, Laura Ingraham, etc." and their financiers, media barons such as Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes -- who, armed with a consubstantial vulgarity, toss grenades of racism and bigotry on a daily basis against the Other -- the people who are not them. Their xenophobic hatred reaches far beyond this nauseous circle that perorates its repetitive Islamophobic messages, like the current assault against the project for an Islamic cultural center in Manhattan amply demonstrates. (1) The cynicism exhibited by the likes of Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Rudolf Giuliani, Rick Lazio, et al. (including Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, who wrote that Allah was "the terrorists' monkey-god") goes, of course, beyond the pale; especially because these dividing issues (race, immigrants, religion) serve the real ideological purpose of these so-called elites and "leaders": the further enrichment of the few, the increased immiseration of the many, and the total dismantlement of all social services that generations of wage earners fought hard to gain between the 1930s and '70s -- a bipartisan agenda, one should add. (2) While this cynical bigotry is not shared by President Obama and neither was it by former president George W. Bush -- both have shown great sensitivity to the status of immigrants and minorities, including Muslim-Americans -- their French alter ego, President Nicolas Sarkozy, has espoused this cynical scapegoating campaign of xenophobic hatred that has not been seen since the shameful days of the Vichy Regime.
Earlier this month the French Weekly Marianne published an article by the long-time journalist and political activist Jean-François Kahn. It was a mordant and pointed critique of Mr. Sarkozy entitled, Voyou de la République ? ("Thug of the Republic?"). The magazine cover showed a threatening picture of the president with the byline: Nationalité, immigration, délinquance: LE VOYOU DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE. Both the cover and the article created a stir with Sarkozy's defenders and guard dogs, known as Sarkozystes, especially due to the fact that the journalist wrote about his target with disdain and exposed the man for what he is -- a demagogue. The main venomous critique the Sarkozystes threw at the magazine and the author was a crime of lese majesty. This was an inexcusable offense to the majestic presidential function. Even Bush and Obama could not but laugh at the lameness of the counterattack, they who have been depicted in various populist groups (right and left) as Hitler and other unpalatable historical characters multiple times. The real problem of Sarkozy has more to do with his lack of legitimacy. He's been blemishing the very republican function with his politically unprincipled expediencies, crass opportunistic decisions, an abysmal lack of cultural education, and a pronounced vulgarity. He is a parvenu and a don -- just what the financial elites needed to advance their agenda of wealth domination and control of the masses through the execution of ever more repressive and reactionary policies. Like his counterparts in the U.S. his task is to finally dismantle the social-democratic consensus in its entirety, an undertaking that began in the mid-1970s under another before the letter neoliberal, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.
Sarkozy is known as Sarko l'Américain after a November 2007 book of the same title by Jean-Philippe Immarigeon. (3) He is the most pro-American president in perhaps 200-plus years -- unfortunately for all the wrong reasons: the love of material wealth and money above all, and the power of forceful authority before liberty, dissent, and joie de vivre. He epitomizes American Puritanism that associates hard work (even through slavery and exploitation) with civilizational exceptionalism -- an anathema to French culture. Accordingly, he's been called President Bling Bling for appearing in public with a Rolex, Ray Ban sunglasses, Armani suits, and a trophy wife whose only quality must be her even greater lust for fame and, therefore, a trophy husband. After his election in 2007, he celebrated with the happy, wealthy few at the upscale Fouquet's restaurant on the Parisian Champs Élysées before going on an escapade on the 190-foot yacht of his billionaire friend Vincent Bollore (CEO of Havas, an advertising conglomerate).
He's been afflicted with an inferiority complex from the get go. (4) He is short (5'5") and resorts to regularly standing on a hidden box when he speaks from a podium to disguise his lack of height. A son of a Hungarian immigrant, he has little knowledge of French culture. He is, by all measurements, uncultured, or as the French say, il n'est pas cultivé. Poorly educated, incapable of writing a book or a speech without the help of a professional writer, he nevertheless is a good orator who can play to the crowds he intends to cajole, be they the traditional petit bourgeois Poujadists, the old Maurassian Lepenists, or the masses that feel economically insecure. In the U.S. he would attract the Tea Partiers, the Christian fundamentalists, and the ignorant multitude -- and he would be supported by Newt Gingrich and his ilk, and the corporate chieftains who finance the destruction of the commons for their short-term benefits.
Cultivated people bring reflection to the fore, which in turn leads to coherent, long-term actions. Charles de Gaulle, in recent times, characterized the genre. So did Georges Pompidou, perhaps the most subtle and culturally refined president France has known in fifty-some years. Pompidou, in his political opus Le Noeud gordien ("the Gordian Knot," Plon, 1974), wondered whether a democratic discipline would guarantee liberty or whether the sword of Alexander would be drawn by some modern tyrant. He concluded pessimistically: "fascism is not that improbable; it is actually, I think, closer to us than totalitarian communism." If fascism can be defined as a system based on an authoritarian government that promotes a single collective identity (thus refusing individualism and minorities) and makes policies that benefit, and are directed by, corporate interests, (5) one is forced to recognize that Sarkozy, consciously or not, is dangerously flirting with that ideology.
Security has been a major theme of his political career from the time he became minister of the interior. In 2007, he campaigned on that issue to rally the vote of the extreme right (Le Pen's National Front) and has continued to use this issue ever since he's been elected to the presidency. In parallel, he has orchestrated a campaign of stigmatization against the residents of poor districts (les banlieues) that are predominantly inhabited by several generations of French descended from North African immigrants and other newcomers and fueled the fire of Islamophobia by questioning the right of a very few Muslim women to wear the burqa or the niqab (a full veiled habit) and eventually passing a law that make these illegal in public. At the same time, he launched a debate on National Identity -- what it is to be French (le français de souche) -- that to many observers boiled down to blood and soil. He has weakened secularism or French "laicity" by delivering various speeches in which he highlighted the Christian nature of the nation. His most recent maneuver has been to order the expulsion of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria and to propose to strip of his French citizenship any newly naturalized individual who attacked or killed a public servant -- thus dumping the first article of the French Constitution that affirms the equality of all under the law independently of one's origin -- and to imprison the parents of a young recidivist delinquent. (And these are only a few examples of what Sarkozy has called his policy of "zero tolerance" from a regime that is becoming increasingly repressive.)
In the economic realm, Sarkozy has put in place the policies advocated by the largest union of employers, the MEDEF (Movement of the French Enterprises), of which his brother Guillaume was the vice president from 2000 to 2006: Lower corporate taxes, income taxes for the wealthy, and estate taxes; more flexibility for employers to hire and fire workers; lower wages; lower social benefits in the name of budgetary rigor; efforts to overhaul the retirement system to lower pensions and increase the retirement age; creeping privatization of entire sectors of the economy, including the health care system that is the, or one of the, best in the world.
In short, Sarko the American is not only emulating the worst parts of the society he so much admires, he seems to be beating the Americans at their own game. Whether he secretly aspires to introduce a XXIst century fascism à la française is not known, but as French philosopher Alain Badiou said in 2008, "there is a Sarkozian Barbary." (6)
Had he not been married three times and involved in so many scandals, one could imagine Sarkozy to be the Republican candidate to the White House in 2012 against Barack Obama. There, at the dawn of these new Dark Ages, his Bêtise au front de taureau would not be out of place as the light of Enlightenment is switched off. (7)
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1. Gary Leupp, a professor of History at Tufts University, has written an excellent article on this issue: "Chronology of a Bizarre Controversy: Hurt Feelings and the Ground Zero Mosque," CounterPunch, August 20-22, 2010 See also "Real Americans, Please Stand Up," by Dick Cavett, The New York Times, August 20, 2010. Both Leupp and Cavett mention a church in Florida that is promoting "International Burn a Koran Day" to take place on September 11. This is how vile, despicable, and dangerous this wedge issue has become. (back)
2. I will expand on this issue -- what Frédéric Lordon, a French economist and director of research at the CNRS, has called the reconquista by the financial elites (the moneyed class) in the wake of the end of Keyneysian-Fordism in the mid 1970s -- in a forthcoming essay. (back)
4. "What made me who I am now is the sum of all the humiliations suffered during childhood," he reportedly told the journalist Catherine Nay, who wrote a semi-official biography of Nicolas Sarkozy (Un Pouvoir nommé désir, Grasset, 2006) -- which may explain his own behavioral contempt towards people that he repeatedly puts down with a vulgarity no other French president has ever used in public. Words like scum, asshole, hoodlums, thugs, sh** (like calling the daily Libération, a "shitty leftist paper") are part of his vocabulary. (back)
5. See Wikipedia: "Fascism...is a radical and authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to organize a nation according to corporatist perspectives, values, and systems, including the political system and the economy. [...] [Fascists] claim that culture is created by the collective national society and its state, that cultural ideas are what give individuals identity, and thus they reject individualism. Viewing the nation as an integrated collective community, they see pluralism as a dysfunctional aspect of society, and justify a totalitarian state as a means to represent the nation in its entirety. They advocate the creation of a single-party state. Fascists reject and resist the autonomy of cultural or ethnic groups who are not considered part of the fascists' nation and who refuse to assimilate or are unable to be assimilated." (back)
6. Alain Badiou : « Il y a une barbarie sarkozienne » Par Rue89, 26/01/2008. (back)