A Quiet Relief

The French are relieved – even delighted – by Donald Trump’s departure. But will Joe Biden’s election herald the return of amicable French-American relations?
@ Hannah Yoon/The New York Times

The 45th president of the United States certainly had a few supporters in France, but mainly in a small number of nationalist political spheres and the odd fanciful intellectual who saw populism as an alternative ideology. (The Comité Trump France, which campaigns for the “Trumpization of France,” has some 30,000 members on social media.) Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right Rassemblement National party (formerly the Front National), even rushed to New York in 2017 in the hope of meeting the then president – but in vain.

However, overall, both French politicians and the people saw Trump as incomprehensible at best, and dangerous at worst. Starkly different to the very popular Barack Obama and, less recently, the much-liked Ronald Reagan. By contrast, Trump’s manners, behavior, and tweets left the French speechless. No one knew what he was doing! France is an old, aristocratic nation, and the lack of decorum expected from a head of state shocked them. Trump also drew on a mythology the French could never understand: The exaltation of wealth – even ill-acquired –, a distain for women and sexual minorities, and the celebration of the white race.

The French are not generally in favor of immigration, but no one would tolerate children being separated from their parents, even if they were illegal migrants, as Trump’s police force did at the Mexican border. Trump may have been supported by the American equivalent of the French Gilets Jaunes movement, marginalized communities from forgotten regions, but I am unsure of whether the Gilets Jaunes would identify with Trump, a brash, loud billionaire, uncompromisingly hostile to any form of welfare.

Relief is therefore the overriding emotion – as shown by the congratulatory messages sent to Biden by almost all political, intellectual, and economic figures in France. “The Americans have chosen their president,” declared Emmanuel Macron on Twitter. “Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris! We have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!” (Macron later called Biden on the phone to congratulate him personally.) This relief is legitimate, as had Trump been re-elected, he would have posed serious economic, military, and strategic threats to France.

Trump’s penchant for closing borders to international trade had already hit French exports, including wine, Roquefort cheese, yogurt, soap, lipstick, and handbags. This was revenge against Europe’s Big Tech tax, and would have worsened in the context of a global recession. The tariffs battle between Boeing and Airbus would have degenerated into a trade war that would have been devastating for both our countries. As for NATO, Trump would most likely have left, just like he left the Paris Agreement on the climate, leaving Europe alone, unprepared, and faced with potential enemies such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

Biden is known in France for his role as Obama’s vice-president, and no one is expecting an emotional reconciliation. What is hoped for, however, is respect for the French-American alliance, and above all predictable, dignified behavior that corresponds to what the French expect from an American president – regardless of his political leanings. And there is no doubt that Kamala Harris will be welcomed with open arms.