France-Amérique: What word sums up this election year in America, and why?
Sylvie Kauffmann: “Rigged.” “Fake news” may have been the watchword for 2016, but this year Donald Trump has gone even further by trying to discredit the electoral process, casting doubt on the validity of absentee ballots and refusing to make a clear statement on whether he will accept the verdict or not. I covered the 2000 election and the battle for Florida, but I would never have believed American democracy would come to this.
You covered U.S. politics under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations from 1993 through 2001. How have relations between France and the United States changed over time?
The world is totally different today. Transatlantic relations began to unravel after 9/11, followed by the Iraq War, even though several European countries (not France) took part in the conflict. Priorities began to shift under Obama. With Trump, France then felt more motivated to work towards European autonomy. Emmanuel Macron has been able to maintain an open dialogue with Trump, but the American president has not conceded a thing. Cooperation in the fight against terrorism has been one of the rare positive aspects.
Do you think Europe will remain America’s closest diplomatic ally?
That partly depends on who wins the election. China’s rise to power has significantly changed the context. In his war with Beijing, Trump has not tried to keep Europe on his side. He is dismissive of NATO and has done everything he can to weaken the E.U. The United States has turned its back on multilateralism whereas Europe still believes in it. If Joe Biden becomes president, he will try to patch things up and the relationship will be more fluid – but things will not be the same as before.
Interview published in the November 2020 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.