A “shrinking” West: a view from the village

A French parliamentarian walked a circular route (perhaps I should have just said circumambulated, but then nobody would read this blog) for 8 months and over 6,000 kilometers (over 3,700 miles) – according to France24. While the route itself would be fun to map (adding context to the discussion), Z Geography’s main interest are the comments peppered throughout the article. What they suggest to Z is that there is quite a bit of similarities between “the French public” (as France24 portrays in the chose quotes) and some sections of “the American public.” The article left me with the impression that the “declining America” argument/observation/theory could be expanded to encompass the West. Or perhaps make it a Franco-American phenomenon.

What follows is a listing of quote from the article and a short editorialized comment from Z Geography.

  • “Everywhere I went I witnessed a crisis in the standard of living, a loss of identity and the loss of a sense of a common destiny.” How often have we heard in the U.S. about the “war on the Middle Class” (from both Republicans and Democrats)
  • “People would tell me: ‘look at the state you have left our country in’,” he added. “There is no more industry, farming is in crisis, just one in ten children of farmers grudgingly says they want to carry on in agriculture.” Aside from the statistic, there’s nothing I can add. Rust Belt cities. Failing small and medium-sized farming families.
  • “And what he found was a France confused about its position in a shrinking world, an uncertainty as to the long-term effects of globalisation and a distrust for politicians who, people told him, “do not listen to us at all”. This is the key quote. Note the mention of globalization (blamed for everything from illegal immigration to loss of jobs) and the distrust of political leaders.
  • Worryingly, he also encountered “latent racism” almost everywhere, “even in the smallest villages…This is racism that seems totally unashamed,” he told Le Monde on Friday. “It is a wholescale [sic] rejection of ‘the other’ and often expressed with excessive aggression.” Another key quote with applicability to the United States. Pick your (or your party’s) favorite scape-goat. Gays. Illegal immigrants. Government Bureaucrats.

One quote that I found unsettling and woefully underexplained concerned rising “anti-Semitic rhetoric” that was “linked to wealth.” Linked how? As people gain (or lose) money there is a greater likelihood of uttering anti-Semitic comments? More information please!

That information gap aside, the quotes from France apply just as effectively to the United States. Industry has (long) been in decline, agriculture (at least the profits of) is the domain of agribusinesses, those “left behind” by globalization (more specifically: economic globalization) are angry – at the political class, their governments, and the “others.”

The only difference is that a French politician bothered to walk around the country to “take its pulse,” in the first place. The only time this happens in the U.S. is during a Presidential election.

Z Geography thinks these comments point to a more geographically diffuse sentiment. The “forces” that promoted the rapid growth of the Tea Party certainly would have similar effects in France – it’s also an advanced economy with multiple links to the global marketplace. The anger permeating economically-destroyed (let’s face it) communities in “America’s Heartland” is also on display in rural, suburban, and urban France. In other words, this isn’t a strictly American problem (or phenomenon) – it’s regional, probably even global.

Z Geography also thinks that economics plays a central role in this anger, but that is the subject for a much longer post.

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