“La colère a gagné.” Anger has won.
The reaction of Jérôme Fenoglio, Director of the French newspaper Le Monde, to Donald Trump’s presidential victory captured the shock and uncertainty felt across the world. For many in France, the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States came as a surprise. Most French pre-election polls and predictions gave Hillary Clinton a likelihood between 70 and 90 percent to win the United States presidential election, and betting markets worldwide had Clinton as the heavy establishment favorite.
While both the French right and left have expressed fear and uncertainty over Trump’s election, others like Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front party welcome Trump with open arms. While it is too early to say with certainty the effect Trump will have, his election has the potential to impact the French and American relationship in many ways, including joint military conflicts and climate change agreements.
Donald Trump has frequently faced scrutiny from the French public over the years. Following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015, Trump insinuated on Twitter that the strict French gun control laws played a part in the massacre. In response to these comments, the French newspaper Libération published an article titled “Well, finally, Donald Trump is a ‘vulture.’”, a name first given to him in a tweet by Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States. This is not the only time Trump’s comments have drawn French anger. After the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, Trump said that he would have “opened fire” if he had been trapped in the Bataclan concert hall, again attributing the lethality of the attack to the strict gun regulations in France. Furthermore, in a Florida speech Trump lamented that “France is no longer France” following the terror attacks there, blaming Muslim immigration for making France unsafe.
Comments such as these have given Trump a reputation for ignorance in France. As a result, French politicians have frequently criticized Trump. Prior to the election, French Prime minister Manuel Valls stated that Trump is “rejected by the world”. Additionally, French President François Hollande said Donald Trump’s “excesses” made people “want to retch.” After the election, Hollande offered a worried message, stating that “some of Donald Trump’s campaign positions must be put to the test of the values and the interests that we share with the United States.” This skepticism stems from a widespread French fear that Trump’s presidency will be marked by a newfound American isolationism. The America First ideology advocated by Trump leaves France worried. “What will become of the Paris agreement on the climate, of the nuclear deal with Iran that Donald Trump wants to reconsider?” asked Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development. Trump putting America first could leave international efforts endangered.
One such fear relates to the military coalitions of the United States and France in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Donald Trump has often criticized American interventionism under Barack Obama, but has also been equally vehement in his promise to end the threat of the Islamic State in the Middle East. The French are concerned Trump’s lack of a clear plan to accomplish these two goals. The American forces stationed in Iraq and Syria play a significant role in the operations there. Their withdrawal could jeopardize the coalition’s goal of providing stability to the region.
Further, Donald Trump’s vocal respect for Vladimir Putin could signal a closer alliance between the United States and Russia in the conflict in Syria, which has spurred recent tensions between France and Russia. The BBC reported that Russian bombardment of the Syrian city Aleppo has led to calls by François Hollande for Russia to be put on trial for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. A closer American and Russian relationship in the Syrian conflict could increase tensions among the French–American coalition.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, an international climate deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could also be jeopardized by Trump’s administration. Throughout his campaign, Trump insisted that he would work to end the deal. This has caused opposition by French politicians, and the New York Times reported that former president Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that the EU impose carbon tariffs on American imports should the United States withdraw from the agreement. Hollande further affirmed that Donald Trump must respect the “irreversible” Paris agreement, stating that it is both the duty and interest of the United States to do so as a significant emitter of greenhouse gasses. The Paris Agreement is a landmark legislation in international climate change regulations, and an American rejection of it would damage French and American relations significantly.
Despite the fear and uncertainty that the election of Donald Trump has awoken in France, the fates of America and France will remain intertwined. France was the first ally of the United States, and the two nations have remained closely linked in an increasingly globalized world. Donald Trump’s election signals a new era in the French-American relationship, bringing to light a sharp divide in global politics that first emerged with the United Kingdom’s recent “Brexit” vote to leave the EU.
In light of the upcoming French presidential election, it remains to be seen how the French will respond to a rise in ethnic nationalism across the globe, but regardless, the decisions made under Donald Trump’s presidency will leave a permanent mark on the French and American relationship in the years to come.