Though his name recognition is even greater now than ever before, real estate tycoon-cum-politician Donald Trump has always been someone well-known to the masses. Prior to his current incarnation as the self-styled lightning rod of the Republican party or the ground wire for seemingly all things cringe worthy in American society if one were to ask his many detractors, Republicans and Democrats alike, his name was associated with everything from gambling and hotels to reality TV shows. The interests he claims to fiercely defend are American but the contemporary era isolationist wrestling with the taxing issue of America’s commitments abroad in a way that would make champion then deserter of isolationism Woodrow Wilson scratch his head in disbelief has many a foreign connection malgré lui; the people he derides are Mexican (among so any others), his latest wife is Slovenian and the first one is Czech, the country he thought an in fact American student who asked him a question was from is South Korea, his buddy Ben Carson is from OkThen-istan, and the list goes on. One country he isn’t ostensibly linked to is France. To find Trump and the country of strikes, baguettes, strikes, crêpes, Molière and strikes in the same sentence one has to look at when he claimed that the November attacks in Paris would not have happened had the residents of the city each been armed to the teeth – a claim which raised many an eyebrow, as does most of Trump’s now banal stock in trade of purposely injudicious statements – and when he said that Paris (in addition to London) had “no-go areas” into which non-Muslims reportedly ventured at their own risk. On the American political landscape one figure who has been linked to France in the past is current Secretary of State and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry. In 2004 his GOP opponents branded him “too French” to be US president, because he speaks French and even saying that he looked like a French person, in a jibe that must have made resident right-wing barometer of Frenchness Nadine Morano smile. Imagine how she would have reacted had they said something similar about Obama, * gasp * !
I would however like to contend that far from 2004 Kerry being too French, it is 2016 Trump who fits that description. Articles were written earlier this year detailing how Trump may be viewed as the modern day version of Alabama Governor George Wallace who railed in his heyday against desegregation and ran for president four times from the 1960s into the 70s. Looking at how Donald Trump stacks up to his contemporaries on the French right and even the ghosts of French politics past, one can see that Trump’s bombastic rhetoric could in fact be chalked up to him channelling his inner Frenchman.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy:
In 2005, then Minister of the Interior and widely expected to throw his hat in the ring as a 2007 centre-right presidential candidate, during a walkabout in one of Paris’ many troubled suburbs Sarkozy declared that he would get rid of delinquent youths – whom he referred to as “rabble” – by cleaning out the neighbourhood with a power hose.
Fast forward to April 2015 amid the Baltimore police brutality protests and Trump took to Twitter to exclaim that “thugs must be stopped”, appealing for the national guard to be called in. Two decades earlier at the height of the Central Park 5 controversy, which saw a group of black youths wrongfully accused of the physical and sexual assault of a white female jogger, he also called for robust policing so that the young troublemakers would learn to be afraid and come to understand the anger of people like him.
Nadine Morano and the “white country” theory
In September 2015 the former government minister (under President Sarkozy) reaffirmed Charles de Gaulle’s statement that the French were “a white European Christian people of Greek and Latin culture”. She was met with waves of criticism from both sides of the political divide. This seems to fit in well with Trump’s keeping company with white nationalists in the US, and refusing to condemn the KKK because he had to “get to know more about them”. The klansmen certainly would apply much of Nadine Morano’s reprisal of de Gaulle’s original statement to the US.
Marine LePen and the “apéros saucisson pinard”
From 2010 onwards, several far right groups began promoting what were touted as anti-islamisation “sausage and wine street parties” – read parties automatically excluding Muslims from partaking. These gatherings were often scheduled to be held in areas of Paris seen as invaded by Muslims, due to them turning out in large numbers for Friday prayers there. Alcohol and pork were thus symbols of what would send Muslims scampering for covering, not unlike a vampire fleeing daylight. Leader in waiting of the Front National, Marine LePen, came out in favour of these gatherings, though she wasn’t the one organising them.
Across in the US, in February of this year, Donald Trump told a story (which turned out to be a total fabrication) about a World War 1 US military commander in the Philippines who executed dozens of Muslim prisoners by shooting them with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. This was supposedly done in order to quell a rebellion in the Muslim region of Mindanao. Just as the wine and pork in Paris were seen as Muslim repellent to be used in areas of France that were perceived as fast becoming no longer French enough, so is the pig’s blood in Trump’s tale a tool used in an area of the Philippines that, due to its religious makeup, was (and in some sense still is) seen as not Filipino enough.
Jean-Marie LePen on Roma, Arabs & Africans / Charles de Gaulle on Arabs, Muslims
In 2010 the French political class was clumsily grappling with the issue of how to deal with the influx of Roma from Eastern European EU member States. These populations were arriving in France due to the newly acquired freedom of movement their nationality afforded them. The leader of the Front National Jean-Marie LePen castigated the Sarkozy government, saying that Roma brought insecurity wherever they settled, and that they were only the tip of an immigration iceberg made up largely of what he saw as the usual suspects of sub-Saharan Africans and Arabs.
Charles de Gaulle, the veritable Ronald Reagan of the French right, once said of North Africans “Arabs don’t amount to anything. Who has ever seen Arabs build anything? They are only good at begging”. As far as Muslims in French society, he said “try to mix oil and vinegar. Shake the bottle. After a while they’ll come apart again. Arabs are Arabs, the French are the French”
Not to be outdone, Trump created no shortage of controversy when he charged in the summer of 2015 that “Mexico are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists”.
De Gaulle on Muslims entering France
“If we integrate, if all the Arabs and Berbers from Algeria were considered French, how would we stop them from coming to live in mainland France, where the standard of living is so much higher”? This was de Gaulle’s question in the early 1960s, and he even predicted that the word “mosque” would replace the word “church” in the name of his home town.
Trump, no doubt inspired by the same knee jerk reaction fears, has promised to ban all Muslims, including ones who are US citizens – from entering the country, citing terrorism, a lack of potential for integration and sharia law as reasons for this attention grabbing policy proposal. Sharing de Gaulle’s aversion to mosques; he offered to buy the spot where the controversial proposed ground zero mosque was to be erected, so that it wouldn’t be built.
Jacques Soustelle, Islam and Western society
Philosopher and ethnologist Jacques Soustelle said of Muslims in France: “Islam is not only a religion, a metaphysics and ethics, but a determining and constrictive framework of all aspects of life. Consequently, to speak of integration – that is to say assimilation – is dangerously utopian. You can only assimilate what can be assimilated”. Perplexingly enough, Soustelle still vigorously favoured and campaigned for the integration of predominantly Muslim Algeria into the French unitary State.
Couching his view in much less academic terms, in a March 2016 interview with CNN, Trump opined “I think Islam hates us”. He has also claimed that Muslims celebrated on 9/11 as well as following other such attacks and called into question whether they had their place in American society as proud and loyal citizens of the country.
Beyond these examples, former Sarkozy Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux’s joke about only token numbers of minority supporters being acceptable and current Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ request to have more white people appear in video footage of the city where he serves as mayor are honourable mentions as possible French Trump-isms. Public intellectual Eric Zemmour’s claim that French people deeply resent being submerged by outsiders and replaced by populations coming from elsewhere is fully in tune with Trump’s rhetoric on immigration.
All of this is not to say that only French politicians can be on Trump’s level; Muslim-bashing Dutch right-winger Geert Wilders and former leader of the now all but defunct British National Party Nick Griffin can also match him in some respects. Importantly, though, neither man has ever quite achieved as widespread a level of appeal as the one the presumptive 2016 US Republican candidate now enjoys – to the chagrin and disbelief of many an observer – reportedly even being ahead of Hillary Clinton, albeit by the slightest of margins, in an opinion poll released last week. While Wilders found himself on the receiving end of an entry ban issued by a foreign country (the UK) in 2009, Trump is the one stating his intent to ban others (Muslims) from his country.
Neither is this to say that parallels exist only between Trump and French politicians; Bernie Sanders could just be the US’ answer to Jean-Luc Melenchon, and Hillary Clinton could be the female American Jacques Chirac in certain respects.
Reference was made earlier on to the 2004 US Presidential campaign. Four years prior to that, when the hotly contested 2000 campaign was at its height, Rage Against The Machine put out a video for their single “Testify”. In it they meticulously showed eerie similarities between candidates Gore and GW Bush in their statements and policy leanings, even going so far as their respective mannerisms. The video ends with a clip of consumer advocate Ralph Nader – who was rivalled in the 90s only by H Ross Perot for the title of most persistent presidential also-ran – saying “if you’re not turned on to politics, politics will turn on you”. Nader’s words were relevant in the 4 elections he contested and such a statement could have aptly summed up the 2002 French election when the Front National’s Jean-Marie LePen – who predictably expressed his support for Trump earlier this year in February – made it to the second round only to be crushed by the vote républicain (a form of tactical voting that sees supporters of one of the 2 larger traditional parties voting for the other of those 2 parties’ candidates in the second round if the Front National candidate passes the first round at the expense of one of said traditional party candidates, effectively blocking the FN from winning) that swept a lesser of two evils Jacques Chirac back into office. Only time will tell if Hillary Clinton proves to be quite French herself in emulating Chirac’s victory. Or maybe Trump will, like the brash upstart Sarkozy did in 2007 when outgoing Chirac almost stood for re-election as an independent just to siphon off votes from Sarkozy and make sure he never got to the Elysée Palace, defy the stalwart Hillary and take the reins at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Donald Trump is taking the possibilities for American-French parallels to new heights. Alexis de Tocqueville eat your heart out!