Coverage in the U.S. was, briefly, focused on Melenchon and the Front de Gauche, but there was never a good explanation of their politics. Attention shifted to Le Pen and the National Front in the U.S. media, and we have been getting a steady diet of weak explanations of racism in France and poor attempts at showing parallels between here and there. The New York Times took the front-page space and time to attack Melenchon for not immediately supporting the neolibeal in the race against the fascist.
Here is a brief but good explanation from Cinzia Arruzza about what's really going on. She writes from a knowledgeable socialist perspective, and her account is far better than anything else I have read in the U.S. Her closing sentence does indeed apply to our situation in its broad outlines.
Just a couple of thoughts on France and elections:
As far as the presidential elections are concerned, the correct line is obviously "Not a single vote for Le Pen". That said, the real key to understand what are the possible future scenarios is the legislative election in June. Legislative elections in France are based on single-member constituencies and two-round system. This means - concretely - that it is extremely difficult for a new formation or for electoral lists with no localized electoral strongholds to get someone elected. Just to give some concrete examples: Of the 10 elected members of the Front de Gauche, only one was from the Parti de Gauche, 7 were from the Communist Party (PCF), which traditionally has consolidated electoral strongholds and applied its usual policy of mutual withdrawal with the Socialist Party. This means that Melenchon's good result at the Presidential election will not automatically translate into an equivalent good result in the legislative election (hence the attempt to find an agreement of some sort with PCF). Take also into account that France Insoumise is not even a party. Another example: FN has currently only two deputies, TWO. It is likely that it will improve its score, but there is no way FN will get a parliamentary majority, which would require a leap from 2 deputies to almost 300!
The outcomes of the Presidential election will not be reflected in the legislative election. Macron doesn't even have a party. The Socialist Party will certainly not repeat Hamon's score. And the same applies to UMP. Neither Le Pen nor Macron have any chance whatsoever to secure a parliamentary majority for their political formations, but Le Pen has way fewer chances to reach an agreement with rightwing political forces (in case they manage to get a majority of seats), and she would likely end up cohabiting with a non-FN and non-supportive government.
How Macron intends to handle the situation is unclear to me, but I take it that there are way more chances with his presidency to have a transversal government and majority of some sort ready to support most of his ultra-neoliberal program. So, it is not that clear to me that we are currently facing a choice between the black hole of fascism and the rescue of democracy. It seems to me that - leaving aside the obviously horrific consideration that a former neofascist such as Marine Le Pen could ever have this kind of electoral success - a victory of Le Pen may mean more institutional chaos and instability, and a victory of Macron will further consolidate a ultra-neoliberal bloc. Still, as I said, the correct line is: not a single vote for Le Pen. But we should agitate it while being very aware of what the actual situation is going to be.