French presidential candidate François Fillon has gone down the same road as Brexiteers in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump in the United States by disparaging the institutions that stand in his way and appealing directly to “the people”.
Fillon, the center-right Republican candidate for the presidential elections in April and May, has dismissed charges that he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros over the years for a fictitious job as a “political assassination”.
He alleges that the rule of law “has been systematically violated” in France and that “the notion of innocent until proven guilty has completely disappeared.”
Fillon held a rally in Paris this weekend, where he maintained that “the people”, not the justice system, would decide the outcome of the election.
The Republican’s insinuations prompted the man he hopes to succeed to speak out.
In a statement, François Hollande — who is not seeking reelection — censured Fillon for leveling “extremely serious accusations against justice and, more broadly, our institutions.”
It is Fillon who has politicized the investigation by labeling it a left-wing conspiracy against him.
In doing so, he mimics Britain’s proponents of exiting the EU, who last year rejected all independent analyses of the economic consequences of leaving as biased.
He follows Donald Trump, who alleged during last year’s presidential election that the vote would be rigged and who maintains to this day that any and all actions taken by institutions that hurt him politically, whether it is a federal judge overruling his Muslim ban or the intelligence community investigating his team’s ties to Russia, are the work of his opponents.
This sort of rhetoric undermines the public’s faith in institutions.
British voters inclined to support “Brexit” believed politicians who said the Bank of England and the Treasury could not be trusted when they warned against leaving the EU.
A minority of voters even believed that the deep state would rig the referendum in favor of the status quo.
Many of Trump’s supporters believe his unproven stories of voter fraud and his claims that it are only disgruntled Democrats in the government who oppose him.
Clearing the way
The risk is that politicizing institutions clears the way for authoritarian behavior.
If you can convince people that judges aren’t blocking your policies because they are illegal, but rather because those judges are biased, then maybe you will get away with removing those same judges.
If you can convince people that investigators aren’t looking into your finances because you misappropriated public funds, but rather because those investigators oppose you politically, then maybe you will get away with calling the investigation to a halt once you are in power.
It is bad enough that political outsiders like the Brexiteers and Trump should be so cavalier. For a former prime minister and candidate of one of France’s two largest political parties, it is utterly disqualifying.