Marine Le Pen, French presidential candidate for the National Front party, triumphantly announced that “the European Union will die because the people do not want it anymore.” That she has the power to see the future is commendable. Doing so without actually being the President of anywhere is amazing. But being able to speak for all of Europe without having been elected yet is a remarkable feat — one wonders how she manages to balance all European citizens’ concerns over the sound of her own French party’s anti-immigrant drum. Like any politician, I suppose we’ll have to take her at her word that she knows what’s good for everyone, especially for people she doesn’t care for.
On our side of the pond, we hear the phrase “the people” over and over to drum up support for political parties, candidates, and laws. It’s even written into the Constitution. Similarly to Ms. Le Pen, our leaders have the extraordinary ability to see into the American people’s household (is that in Kansas? California? Northern Alaska? Birmingham, Alabama? The Bronx? It’s so hard to keep track of where to find America) and then divine not only solutions to problems, but foresee problems the average American never knew they had.
My problem is that I’ve never seen “the people.” I’ve seen some people: my wife, my neighbor, a man at the gas pump, a co-worker, three individuals in line at the grocery store, and the woman begging for change downtown, to name a few. But I’ve never seen the people. Personally, I find the phrase “the people” to be too vague, but this phrase is the greatest political discovery in human history.
Helping a person is partisan, and requires the tangible improvement of a specific person’s life. Failure is too easy and success is too difficult, even if more fulfilling. But helping a people is smart, because there is no definite way to measure success when no one is helping an individual. Therefore, the politician wins every time. Even when they lose, they still fight for “the people.” With this turn of phrase, a politician can go their entire career and never actually try to help a single real person.
And what’s best for the politician is this: when approached for comment, “the people” evaporates into a foggy group of individuals with their own hopes, fears, and needs. And who among them could adequately provide comment on behalf of the people?