In all sincerity, I like Americans a lot; I’ve met many lovely people in the United States, and I empathize with the shame many Americans (and not only “New York intellectuals”) feel at having such an appalling clown for a leader.
However, I have to ask—and I know what I’m requesting isn’t easy for you—that you consider things for a moment from a non-American point of view. I don’t mean “from a French point of view,” which would be asking too much; let’s say, “from the point of view of the rest of the world.”
Illustration by Ricardo Martínez
On the numerous occasions when I’ve been questioned about Donald Trump’s election, I’ve replied that I don’t give a shit. France isn’t Wyoming or Arkansas. France is an independent country, more or less, and will become totally independent once again when the European Union is dissolved (the sooner, the better).
The United States of America is no longer the world’s leading power. It was for a long time, for almost the entire course of the twentieth century. It isn’t anymore.
It remains a major power, one among several.
This isn’t necessarily bad news for Americans.
It’s very good news for the rest of the world.
My response is a bit of an exaggeration. One has an ongoing obligation to take at least a modicum of interest in American political life. The United States is still the world’s leading military power and unfortunately has yet to break its habit of mounting interventions beyond its borders. I’m not a historian, and I don’t know much about ancient history—for example, I couldn’t say whether Kennedy or Johnson was more to blame for the dismal Vietnam affair—but I have the impression that it’s been a good long time since the United States last won a war, and that for at least fifty years its foreign military interventions, whether acknowledged or clandestine, have been nothing but a succession of disgraces culminating in failures.
Let’s go back all the way to the United States’s last morally unquestionable and militarily victorious intervention, namely its participation in World War II: What would have happened had the United States not entered the war (an unpleasant alternate history)? Without a doubt, the destiny of Asia would have been greatly altered. The destiny of Europe, too, but probably somewhat less. In any case, Hitler would have lost just the same. What’s most probable is that Stalin’s armies would have reached Cherbourg. Some European countries that were spared the ordeal of communism would have suffered it.
A disagreeable scenario, I admit, but a brief one. Forty years later, the Soviet Union would have collapsed all the same, simply because it rested on an ineffective and bogus ideology. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the culture in which communism has been established, it hasn’t managed to survive for so much as a century—not in any country in the world.
People’s memories aren’t very long. The Hungarians, the Poles, the Czechs of today—do they really remember that they used to be communists? Does the way they envision what’s at stake in Europe differ so much from the Western European viewpoint? It seems extremely unlikely. To adopt for a moment the language of the center-left, the “populist cancer” is not at all limited to the Visegrád Group. Above all, the arguments used in Austria, in Poland, in Italy, and in Sweden are exactly the same. One of the constants in Europe’s long history is the struggle against Islam; today, that struggle has simply returned to the foreground.
I’ve read about the CIA’s repulsive tactics in Nicaragua and Chile only in novels (almost exclusively American novels), so I can’t make any definite accusations on those scores. The first American military interventions I can really remember are those of the two Bushes, especially the son’s. France refused to join him in his war against Iraq—a war that was in equal parts immoral and stupid; France was right, and my pleasure in pointing this out is all the greater, because France has seldom been right since. . . let’s say, since the time of de Gaulle.
Enormous progress was made under Obama. Maybe he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a little too soon; but as far as I’m concerned, he truly earned it later, on the day when he refused to back Francois Hollande’s proposed attack on Syria. Obama’s attempts at racial reconciliation were less successful, and I don’t know your country well enough to understand exactly why; all I can do is regret the fact. But at the very least, Obama can be congratulated for not adding Syria to the long list (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and others I’m no doubt forgetting) of Muslim lands where the West has committed atrocities.
Trump is pursuing and amplifying the policy of disengagement initiated by Obama; this is very good news for the rest of the world.
The Americans are getting off our backs.
The Americans are letting us exist.
The Americans have stopped trying to spread democracy to the four corners of the globe. Besides, what democracy? Voting every four years to elect a head of state—is that democracy? In my view, there’s one country in the world (one country, not two) that enjoys partially democratic institutions, and that country isn’t the United States of America; it’s Switzerland. A country otherwise notable for its laudable policy of neutrality.
The Americans are no longer prepared to die for the freedom of the press. Besides, what freedom of the press? Ever since I was twelve years old, I’ve watched the range of opinions permissible in the press steadily shrinking (I write this shortly after a new hunting expedition has been launched in France against the notoriously anti-liberal writer Éric Zemmour).
The Americans are relying more and more on drones, which—if they knew how to use these weapons—could have allowed them to reduce the number of civilian casualties (but the fact is that Americans have always been incapable, practically since aviation began, of carrying out a proper bombing).
But what’s most remarkable about the new American policies is certainly the country’s position on trade, and there Trump has been like a healthy breath of fresh air; you’ve really done well to elect a president with origins in what is called “civil society.”
President Trump tears up treaties and trade agreements when he thinks it was wrong to sign them. He’s right about that; leaders must know how to use the cooling-off period and withdraw from bad deals.
Unlike free-market liberals (who are, in their way, as fanatical as communists), President Trump doesn’t consider global free trade the be-all and end-all of human progress. When free trade favors American interests, President Trump is in favor of free trade; in the contrary case, he finds old-fashioned protectionist measures entirely appropriate.
President Trump was elected to safeguard the interests of American workers; he’s safeguarding the interests of American workers. During the past fifty years in France, one would have wished to come upon this sort of attitude more often.
President Trump doesn’t like the European Union; he thinks we don’t have a lot in common, especially not “values”; and I call this fortunate, because, what values? “Human rights”? Seriously? He’d rather negotiate directly with individual countries, and I believe this would actually be preferable; I don’t think that strength necessarily proceeds from union. It’s my belief that we in Europe have neither a common language, nor common values, nor common interests, that, in a word, Europe doesn’t exist, and that it will never constitute a people or support a possible democracy (see the etymology of the term), simply because it doesn’t want to constitute a people. In short, Europe is just a dumb idea that has gradually turned into a bad dream, from which we shall eventually wake up. And in his hopes for a “United States of Europe,” an obvious reference to the United States, Victor Hugo only gave further proof of his grandiloquence and his stupidity; it always does me a bit of good to criticize Victor Hugo.
Logically enough, President Trump was pleased about Brexit. Logically enough, so was I; my sole regret was that the British had once again shown themselves to be more courageous than us in the face of empire. The British get on my nerves, but their courage cannot be denied.
President Trump doesn’t consider Vladimir Putin an unworthy negotiating partner; neither do I. I don’t believe Russia has been assigned the role of humankind’s universal guide—my admiration for Dostoevsky doesn’t extend that far—but I admire the persistence of orthodoxy in its own lands, I think Roman Catholicism would do well to take inspiration from it, and I believe that the “ecumenical dialogue” could be usefully limited to a dialogue with the Orthodox Church (Christianity is not only a “religion of the Book,” as is too quickly said; it’s also, and perhaps above all, a religion of the Incarnation). I’m painfully aware that the Great Schism of 1054 was, for Christian Europe, the beginning of the end; but on the other hand, I believe that the end is never certain until it arrives.
It seems that President Trump has even managed to tame the North Korean madman; I found this feat positively classy.
It seems that President Trump recently declared, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist!” Me too, precisely so. Nationalists can talk to one another; with internationalists, oddly enough, talking doesn’t work so well.
France should leave NATO, but maybe such a step will become pointless if lack of operational funding causes NATO to disappear on its own. That would be one less thing to worry about, and a new reason to sing the praises of President Trump.
In summary, President Trump seems to me to be one of the best American presidents I’ve ever seen.
On the personal level, he is, of course, pretty repulsive. If he consorted with a porn star, that’s not a problem, who gives a shit, but making fun of handicapped people is bad behavior. With an equivalent agenda, an authentic Christian conservative—which is to say, an honorable and moral person—would have been better for America.
But maybe it could happen next time, or the time after that, if you insist on keeping Trump. In six years, Ted Cruz will still be comparatively young, and surely there are other outstanding Christian conservatives. You’ll be a little less competitive, but you’ll rediscover the joy of living within the borders of your magnificent country, practicing honesty and virtue. (With some instances of marital infidelity. Nobody’s perfect, you should relax about that. Even in the best American thrillers, there are scenes of spousal repentance that are hard to bear, especially when the children intervene. I don’t want to play the “licentious Frenchman,” a character I loathe, I’m just pleading for the maintenance of a minimal level of hypocrisy, without which no life in human society is possible.)
You’ll export some products (indispensable brands: Marshall, Klipsch, Jack Daniel’s). You’ll import some others (we in France also have stuff to sell). In the end, this probably won’t amount to much, either in trade volume or in foreign exchange. A reduction in global trade is a desirable goal, and one that could be reached within a short time frame.
Some protest actions could accelerate the process. Without very much difficulty, they could be limited to goods and property. There’s a limited number of sailors aboard any given container ship; in case of an attack, it would be easy to warn the captain and to evacuate them, avoiding any conflict.
Your messianic militarism will completely disappear; the world will only breathe a sigh of relief.
Silicon Valley and, to a lesser degree, Hollywood will have to cope with the appearance of formidable competitors; but Silicon Valley, like Hollywood, will hang on to important sectors of the market.
China will scale back its overweening ambitions. This outcome will be the hardest to achieve, but in the end, China will limit its aspirations, and India will do the same. China has never been a global imperialist power, nor has India—unlike the United States, their military aims are local. Their economic aims, it’s true, are global. They have some economic revenge to take, they’re taking it at the moment, which is indeed a matter of some concern; Donald Trump is quite right to not let himself be pushed around. But in the end, their contentiousness will subside, their growth rate will subside.
All this will take place within one human lifetime.
You have to get used to the idea, worthy American people: in the final analysis, maybe Donald Trump will have been a necessary ordeal for you. And you’ll always be welcome as tourists.