But perhaps they shouldn’t be. After Brexit, the concerns of those fearful of the future have been put on the forefront of many minds. We see trends like this in several countries. The French extreme right is gaining in popularity. Radio analysts in France are calling America “just another country like any other” now. “They have lost their integrity as a world leader.” A lady I sat beside this afternoon at the city hall told me she woke up with dread and is frightened by what she still cannot believe happened.
I am personally devastated. Not because I thought Hillary was the perfect candidate, or because she was the embodiment of everything I hold dear. But because she has a demonstrated public service history, experience in international affairs and a predicable sense of duty.
In 2008, my mom and I became Canadian citizens. We hold two passports. I have always been particularly proud of my birth place. Today, for the first time in my life, I am embarrassed of being American.
I woke to dozens of emails from students, friends, family members – all French – with messages of condolence, words of shock and concern. Will the extreme right take the ticket in May here in France? What does this mean for international stability? We have a completely inexperienced person with his thumb on the most powerful army in the world. Who is now the superpower? After all, America has lost its moral role as leader, they say.
I completely sympathize with the concerns of those who worry about the overextension of globalization, about immigration, about jobs, about security. The head of the International Monetary Fund, French woman Christine Lagarde, recently said that governments need to throw their support toward responsible globalization. She’s right.
My answer to all these problems, however, isn’t Donald Trump. But I can see why it was for many of my fellow Americans. Anything but the status quo. It was more a choice among non-options than a real choice at all.
In 1848, the famous French author Gustave Flaubert wrote in his Sentimental Education of an uneducated working class man taking the throne after King Louis Philippe. There’s a scene where this new king stands on the throne half drunk from wine and power. He takes the scepter in his hand and waves it around like the baseball bat of a home run hitter. A total lack of reverence and respect. Flaubert warned in this part of his expansive tome about the danger of the unexperienced, unprepared taking power. Almost two hundred years later we see the embodiment of that concern.
We don’t have a perfect system. Democracy can be dangerous. Nothing truer could be said. Our Founding Fathers warned us of as much, something I teach in my Constitutional Law class. But the truth is that in the eyes of the world, America isn’t the greatest country anymore. And I can’t quite see how someone like Trump could bring us back there, especially not in the eyes of the rest of the world. This morning my mom sent me this excellent article explaining a similar view.
Yesterday’s decision seems a little closer to the Populism of the 1930s in European than a rebirth of America the Great… After a financial crisis (1929), certain European populations were angry and worried. They elected people who were incompetent but who flattered their sense of a return to national greatness. The rest is one of the worst stories of our collective history.
Trump is a business man, not a maniac (I hope). More or less good at making deals (multiple bankruptcies doesn’t bode well in my book). And he has shown that he does what is good for him. Luckily we have a written constitution in America. The best I can hope for is he’ll do very little – make way for even more money making once this fetish with political power has ended. Perhaps then we can go back to being proud of the station that was once – and was internationally under Obama – the most distinguished and respected position in the world.
France, in mass numbers, mourn Obama today. As so do I.