What's in a Political Logo
While walking our dog the other day, my wife and I passed a Ted Cruz 2018 sign. Though it was a familiar lawn ornament in this deep-red Houston neighborhood, this time we stopped in our tracks. As if on cue, we turned to one another and exclaimed: “The FN!”
As you might know, FN is the acronym for France’s extreme rightwing political party: the Front National. Earlier this year, however, at the behest of its leader Marine Le Pen, the party renamed itself the Rassemblement National (National Rally). The reason for the rebranding was simple: Pummeled by the centrist Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 presidential election, Le Pen decided to distance herself and party from the virulently anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant movement that her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had founded as the FN four decades earlier.
Now, my wife and I did not blurt “FN” because we liken Cruz’s politics to Le Pen’s. Instead, we saw a striking likeness between their logos. Depicting either a preternaturally gifted longhorn or one half of Texas in red flames, Cruz’s blue-and-red logo is a ringer for Le Pen’s blue-and-red flame. (Oddly, while the latter is largely unchanged from its previous incarnation, Cruz’s 2016 logo was, in fact, a blue and red flame.)
Of course, a great deal separates Ted Cruz from Marine Le Pen. But a brief history of the FN suggests they nevertheless share more than a blue and red logo.
Jean-Marie Le Pen made his political fortune by telling it like it was -- or rather, the way his followers thought it was. He is less an ideologue than a provocateur, thrilling his audiences with what they called his “political incorrectness,” and what critics called his anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic slurs. He was adept at what the French call dérapages, or deliberate verbal slips.
Among the vile ideas that slip into the elder Le Pen’s rhetoric is that the Holocaust was “a detail of history” -- a lie echoed last week when he praised Robert Faurisson, the notorious Holocaust denier who just died. Le Pen has also praised Vichy, the wartime collaborationist regime that assisted the Nazis in sending more than 70,000 Jews -- French and foreign -- to the gas chambers. For good measure, he also mocked the suicide of a French Jewish politician, rhyming his last name, Durafour, with crématoire, French for crematory.
But the elder Le Pen is an equal opportunity racist. In a career scorched by incendiary remarks, he has called for Europe’s “Nordic peoples” to defend the continent against Islam, prescribed “Monseiur Ebola” as a cure to the influx of immigrants into Europe, and insisted upon the inherent “inequality between races.” Even French-born Muslims, for Le Pen, can never become truly French. “A goat born in a stable,” he explained, “is not a horse.”
Marine Le Pen has rejected her father’s targeting of Jews, but not of Arabs. While she usually avoids his hateful excesses, she has compared the sight of Muslims praying on Parisian sidewalks to a foreign “occupation.” In vowing to halt both legal and illegal immigration, she has warned that immigrants are transforming France into a squatter’s resort.
In essence, she has traded the Jew for the Arab as the “Other”-- an eternal foreign presence that poses an existential threat to France. With this clear and present danger confronting France, the nation needs a strong leader who ‘calls them like she sees them.’ Not surprisingly, President Donald Trump and Le Pen have expressed their admiration for one another. Just as he is making America great again, she promises to make France grande again. The first step to greatness, predictably, is to codify her demand for “zero tolerance for immigration.”
This brings us back to Senator Cruz. While he is neither an ideological racist nor a political arsonist, last Monday’s campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Houston reminded us where he has tied his political fortunes. From Trump’s birtherism campaign against President Barack Obama to his presidential campaign against “rapists” sent by Mexico, from his presidential actions like the Muslim travel ban to his presidential words, including his belief that there were “fine people” on both sides last year in Charlottesville, we cannot doubt the nature of our president’s values.
In the end, Cruz is what the filmmaker Ken Burns labeled a Vichy Republican. The label applies to those politicians in occupied France who, in order to further their own goals, accommodated themselves to the Vichy regime. But Vichy is a state of mind, not a place. Cruz has come to terms with Trump in a similar manner. Should the day arrive when French conservative politicians ditch their principles and rally to a President Le Pen, French historians might justifiably call them the Mar-a-Lago Republicans.