In the United States, being a billionaire paves the way to the White House. In France, presidential candidates are expected to be poor (or at least appear so).
The majority of Trump’s predecessors, with the exception of Clinton, were very wealthy. Their prosperity was, and is, seen as proof of success and a shield against corruption. The opposite is true in France: presidential candidates are better received if they are poor. And if they are not, they will do their best to appear to be. As we speak, the candidate for the French right-wing party Les Républicains, François Fillon, is striving to play down his family’s revenues and the value of his château. Failing in business reassures the French, who are adverse to capitalism. In the United States, Trump has refused to declare his income, quite probably to make the public believe he is richer than he actually is.
These contrasting relationships with money are as old as our two nations. The French have retained a Catholic psyche, and associate wealth with sin. Past aristocrats were defined by the fact they did not work, and living “nobly” implies laziness. In the United States, with the public’s Calvinist subconscious, wealth is seen as a divine reward, a sign of mystical and political “election.” Anyone looking to understand the differences between our two nations should search through the depths of our history and our people’s souls.
When money won’t cut it, other shared traits bind us instead. Today’s voters on both sides of the Atlantic want something fresh, unexpected, and even unknown. This is precisely what caused Trump’s victory in the United States, and what will probably lead to the election of Emmanuel Macron in France. The people want to be astonished even more than reassured.