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A Scoville Fellow’s Look into the French Presidential Election

Memorial to those who died in the November 2015                                                                         terrorist attacks at Place de la République.

Three weeks before the end of my Scoville Fellowship, Donald J. Trump was elected president. Throughout my 9-month fellowship, I had reported on human rights abuses and U.S. defense policy, and yet the election threw me.

In an effort to understand what many dubbed a wave of populism traversing the west, I flew to France a month later with big questions about how terror, migration, and economic fears were influencing their own election. With my Scoville-funded professional development stipend and support from NBC News, I was afforded a rare opportunity for a young journalist – the chance to report on the ground – traveling and asking questions of people I would not normally meet.

In Nice, for instance, I met a group of boys ranging in age from 18 to 20, who were haunted by the ISIS-inspired attack that had occurred five months prior. One of the boys, Michael, said his father was a police officer on the border who saw waves of refugees come from Italy into France daily. Michael was convinced that France needed to leave the European Union in order to secure its frontiers.He also worried about the sky-high unemployment rate and what that meant for the future of France.

They were persuaded in these beliefs by Marine Le Pen, a far-right candidate well known in France for an anti-Europe, anti-Islam platform, who is now competing in the final round for France’s presidency. Many of Le Pen’s efforts to “detoxify” the party of her father had succeeded, and several young millennials were ready to rally for her cause.

In Washington, I had uncovered the underbelly of government, reporting on the influence of lobbyists on lawmakers, and in France, I saw how far removed government had become from the people it represented.

And despite stark economic and political differences, Trump and Le Pen represented an extreme change for many who felt abandoned by government.

After delving into legislation in Washington, reporting in France provided a humbling lesson: that national security policy trickles from government to real people, having a colossal influence on the fear they feel in their everyday lives.

Marine Le Pen at the Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysées

 Read her article on French millennials at NBC News.

Lauren Chadwick was a Spring 2016 Scoville Fellow at the Center for Public Integrity. To read the articles she wrote during her fellowship, click here. She is currently the executive assistant to the Senior Vice President of MSNBC.