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Sound bites wear out when they are overused day after day. It’s a form of programmed obsolescence in public speech.

Like all the others, the French President no doubt has his verbal pearls redacted by a political communication expert. And this is how we now find ourselves with: “the day after”.

Quick, go to a search engine and you will easily find book and movie titles that match up to this find. Crime novels, political analyses by the great minds in television studios, books by unknowns, disaster movies or forgotten third-rate movies, oh… here’s a classic… The expression is well-worn and in these stormy weather days, one is tempted to respond with a “so all’s not so quiet on the Western Front”.

The day before, the sound bites had more to do with “since life expectancy is rising”, followed by a number; 49.3, if memory serves me well (1 Article 49.3 of the French Constitution allows the adoption of a text by the National Assembly, immediately and without a vote.) How all that seems far away now…

There was not one kopeck available for the social money jar, not one penny for salaries, and the political class was whining over the 17 billion required to save France’s Arc de Triomphe from mothballing, while, at the same time, blessing the big fortunes who had rushed to Notre Dame’s bed sude. There was the promise of a vaccine within five years, for its guaranteed resurrection.

And then, a “little flu” came out of the East, just in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year, shortly after a French ex-president who was a fan of beer-type Coronas and Asian antiques had died as a reminder that we were mortals, all of us. A few evangelists later, we couldn’t keep track of the dead, after mocking our Italian friends for being “ill prepared”. The following day, it was pandemic time.

So the first one who takes the risk of saying “things were better before” will have to describe that old world better than I can sketch it. Not forgetting to mention the police violence, the list of victims who lost an eye or had their hands torn off, so that order would prevail and the reforms be reformed. The days before were filled with talk about those who are nothing, who are too lazy to cross the street to get a job, according to some. The day before was plain, ordinary capitalist and neoliberal reality.

Yes, the current general with his winged wand, the one who shook dirty hands and did not even mask his degrading words and, at the same time, his immoderate love of business firms, attempted “on the day before” to re-thread the climbing rope he was no longer sure would bring him to the top. Now, his troops are confined under the avalanche and he has nothing else to cling to except the State’s intitutional skeleton, while an entire country, as is the case everywhere, goes in search of its own resilience, by mobilizing those live forces that were spared in those fine days of “before”.

This political “day before” finally rests on nothing but a consensus obtained because of the fear of death or of the truncheon in the case of the stubborn or the rebellious. For costumes, and as costume designers, an entire armada of Republican politicians playing the part of national unity or preparing the changeover in their video-conferences. The sad spectacle of those from before attempting to stage an after.

But lifting your eyes away from the din flowing out of the “special editions” on the screens allow you to see all of sudden that a good number of those “who are nothing” have finally crossed the street, not to find a job, but a common meaning to their existence. Death will not get the best out of their living time.

And as “their lives are worth more than your benefits” some who were not even at the tail end of the climbing rope yesterday are weaving social links under social distancing. Look at them well now, those of today, because on the day after, they will be thrown back into invisibility, you can be sure of it. The nurse, the nurse’s aid, the firefighter who was gassed and truncheoned yesterday, the cashier on her short-term contract, the the grumpy truck driver, the dissociated associations, the researcher being actively researched… All those every politician in the TV studio thanks first and foremost these days, as if the electoral kettle was still on the fire. Once the de-confinement sets in, bit by bit, they will get used again to how things were before.

It seems like my columns are veering toward the confinement diary.

Did I mention the UN’s General Secretary calling for a generalized cease fire across the world. And the Market’s visible hand creasing the bank notes so as to preempt health supplies and molecules wherever they may be found? I wouldn’t even be surprised if those financing world-wide arms were to convert into wholesale merchants of sanitary masks, seeing as the war zone has shifted onto another terrain.

They say that on the day after, a soccer player on île de Ré will have a smaller salary than an emergency doctor… I wrote that on an April 1st, an ordinary day of general suffocation.

(To be continued)

Photo: Robert Doisneau

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges |
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Daniel Fleury
Lettres modernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots politiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…