I have been asked by several friends and family members to shed some light on how the French are feeling about the results of our recent US election. Let me preface this by saying that I was wary of tackling a piece like this because, admittedly, I wasn’t sure how I could write about the outcome in an unemotional way. But, now that the dust has settled a little and I feel a bit more, shall we say, levelheaded about it all, I have decided to give it a go. I am in no way positioning myself as a political expert, nor am I trying to push one political agenda over another. My goal here is to give you a glimpse into what a culture outside of our own has at stake, and provide a few of my own thoughts. I ask that, regardless of who YOU voted for last week, you would give me grace in this endeavor.
I will say first that the French, as well as most other Europeans, have been extremely interested in the outcome of this election season. French media has followed each debate, each alleged scandal and controversy, each political promise – not simply for its entertainment value or because they don’t have their own issues to worry about (this couldn’t be further from the truth), but because they are very much invested in and affected by the result. We would be remiss to forget that, as the world’s most influential nation, the consequences of our decisions reach well beyond our borders and send messages to both our allies and our enemies.
France, a valuable ally to the U.S. since our nation’s conception, woke up on Wednesday morning to the shocking news: Mr. Trump would be the 45th president of the United States of America. People were shaken, stunned, and confused. Much like what happened in the States, French media had portrayed Secretary Clinton as the inevitable winner all along. But, they were wrong. It was an upset that took most of the world by surprise.
Although fascinated by the so-called “Trump Phenomenon,” the majority of French citizens had maintained a largely negative view of Mr. Trump throughout his campaign. According to a survey performed by the online polling source YouGov earlier this year, 52% of the French citizens surveyed even went so far as to say they would be “afraid” if he were elected. Many saw him as “violent” and “dangerous,” and were bewildered by what they took as anti-Muslim and anti-migrant rhetoric. It is important to note that France has long been slammed for poorly integrating its own Muslims, a group which currently makes up almost 10% of the country’s population. Nevertheless, many French citizens were unhappy with him, at the very least seeing him as uninformed and ignorant to the political and social atmosphere in France. The French weren’t resoundingly in love with Secretary Clinton either, but, like many American voters, they viewed her as the “less-bad” alternative. Many in support of Clinton were simply excited about the possibility of having the first female president of the U.S. When it comes down to it, the majority pro-Clinton sentiment in France aligned with that of most government and public spheres, which, if we’re completely honest, will have affected the slant of the information broadcast on TV and printed in the newspapers.
But that’s all water under the bridge now. Regardless of popular French opinion, regardless of what President François Hollande or the Le Monde daily or anybody else had to say – the decision was not theirs to make. France had to sit back and watch the chips fall, trusting that the American people would ultimately make the best choice. Now, the American people have spoken. What’s done is done.
But, now what?
The strange and unexpected turn of events that led to the election of Mr. Trump has left the French feeling uneasy. This is, after all, an incredibly vulnerable time for France – and the entirety of the European Union, for that matter – following the United Kingdom’s recent vote to leave the EU. Polls have shown that, post election, the concerns of the French are twofold: 1) Under President Trump’s administration, what will the United State’s relationship look like with France and other global allies in light of his isolationist claims, and 2) How will Mr. Trump’s victory influence the results of their own upcoming presidential election.
In just under 6 months from now, France will be electing its next president – most likely from among popular front-runners in the Socialist Party, the center-right party (Les Républicains), and the far-right National Front. Current President Hollande of the Socialist Party is slated to run for a second term, while the Republican nominee will not be determined until the Republican presidential primary in late November. While it is likely that the Republican front-runner will win the popular vote next May (as Hollande’s approval rating is very low), there are some who think that the leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, may have gained momentum in response to the political upset in the United States. Le Pen’s mantra, “Les Français d’abord” (the French First), closely mirrors Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign. She stands for economic protectionism, tighter border control, and is a leader in the movement against the “Islamisation of French society.” In the 2012 election, Le Pen came in third behind Hollande and then-president Nicolas Sarkozy with 18% of the vote. But, things feel different this year. Some, Ms. Le Pen included, believe that Mr. Trump’s victory against the political elite may spur frustrated and disillusioned French voters towards Le Pen’s “populist”, anti-establishment platform.
But this is not the first feather in Le Pen’s cap this year. A fierce advocate for France’s withdraw from the European Union, Le Pen has been using Brexit to her advantage. And now with Mr. Trump’s win, Le Pen feels that the way has been paved for more political upsets – her election in 2017 being the third act of a “global revolution.” In a speech following Trump’s win, Ms. Le Pen said the following:
“Americans have voted. They have rejected the status quo. They showed, through a decision which surprised those who believe situations are unchangeable, that the world moves, that the world changes, and that movement is part of the life of nations. What happened last night was not the end of the world, it was the end of a world. Americans have been given the president they chose and not the one that a settled system wanted to make them validate, as if elections were nothing but a formality to satisfy appearances and conveniences.”
The question now is, will France choose their next president from the “swamp” of political elitists who cannot really advocate for the interests of the blue-collar worker? Or, will they, like us Americans, reject the status quo and turn to Marine Le Pen in 2017? The French media doesn’t think so because, after all, the National Front party has been around for a long time and hasn’t gained enough ground to truly be taken seriously. But, if we’ve learned anything from last week’s upset, the media isn’t always right. And, isn’t Ms. Le Pen just as much of a slippery politician as the rest of them? Heh, what do I know… I’m new here.
Whew, glad that’s over. I’d love to hear what YOU think! Oh, and here are some links to my online sources (and some further reading for you!):