Dispatch

Locked Down at Home, Much of France Is Quietly Rooting for Biden

Trump’s insults and ideological closeness to Marine Le Pen have left a bitter taste.

People pass a poster depicting French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) Marine Le Pen with the face of U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017.
People pass a poster depicting French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) Marine Le Pen with the face of U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017. JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

PARIS—There are plenty of American-style diners and bars in major French cities, and they reported roaringly successful election-night parties four years ago.

Some remained open all night to broadcast Donald Trump’s election as Le Président, with viewers—whether French or expat Americans—describing it as one of the most extraordinary and (it has to be said) entertaining political dramas of all time.

Old Glory flew from café awnings, and the Star-Spangled Banner could be heard blaring out of sound systems as revelers cheered or booed the result of every count.

PARIS—There are plenty of American-style diners and bars in major French cities, and they reported roaringly successful election-night parties four years ago.

Some remained open all night to broadcast Donald Trump’s election as Le Président, with viewers—whether French or expat Americans—describing it as one of the most extraordinary and (it has to be said) entertaining political dramas of all time.

Old Glory flew from café awnings, and the Star-Spangled Banner could be heard blaring out of sound systems as revelers cheered or booed the result of every count.

None of this can happen in 2020, because France is in full coronavirus lockdown, with all restaurants, cafés, and bars from Paris to Marseille shut until at least early December.

An overall sense of nationwide immobility—and gloom—has been intensified by thousands of extra troops and police on the streets following a series of horrible Islamist terrorist attacks carried out by lone knifemen.

This means election night viewers having to remain at home to watch the contest, while barred from organizing any festivities involving more than a handful of family members or others they live with.

All French broadcasters will nonetheless deliver dedicated programs starting in the early hours of Wednesday morning local time, to factor in the time difference.

France is traditionally hugely interested in the political fortunes of its old ally, despite relations becoming very frosty during the Trump administration.

Like everywhere else in Europe, Trump’s approval rating was at less than 25 percent in France at the start of his incumbency, although he did have some fans within Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party.

The far-right party, which used to be called the National Front, was always a natural ally of Trump’s Republican Party because of their shared reactionary views on subjects ranging from immigration to climate change.

These differences were politely played down by French President Emmanuel Macron when he first hosted Trump on a visit to Paris in July 2017. There were even initial signs of a surprising friendship between the two men—and indeed between the respective first ladies, Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron—but it did not last long.

By late 2018, Trump was launching ferocious attacks on Macron over everything from tariffs to France’s capitulation to the Nazis at the beginning of World War II.

The viciousness reached a low point around the time of commemorations of the centenary of the end of World War I, when Trump tweeted that the French “were starting to learn German before the U.S. came along.”

A Macron spokesman tried to be as diplomatic about the insult as possible, suggesting that the line had been “made for Americans.”

Such episodes alone imply that the vast majority of the French are hoping for a Biden victory this time around, although there is unlikely to be much sense of rejoicing if it happens.

Nabila Ramdani is an award-winning French-Algerian journalist, columnist, and broadcaster who specializes in French politics, Islamic affairs, and the Arab world. Twitter: @NabilaRamdani

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