OK. We've all heard enough American opinions about Donald Trump to last a lifetime. What do the French think of him? In the weeks since Trump's inauguration, we have been scanning the headlines of French news and performing our own very unscientific inventory.
Here is a sampling of recent articles in assorted French publications:
Affaire russe, fuites, démissions: Trump face à la crise. "Russian affair, flight, resignation: Trump faces a crisis" (La Provence 16 February 2017)
Les débuts difficiles de Donald Trump dans l'opinion publique. "Difficult beginnings for Donald Trump in public opinion" (Le Monde 14 February 2017)
Trump trébuche sur le dossier Russe. "Trump stumbles on the Russian dossier" (Le Figaro 14 February 2017)
Donald Trump bouscule l'ordre économique mondiale. "Donald Trump upsets the global economic stability" (Le Figaro 14 February 2017)
L'empire Trump s'agrandit avec un luxueux golf à Dubaï. "The Trump empire grows with a luxury golf resort in Dubaï" (Le Scan Sport 14 February 2017)
L’Union européenne demande aux Etats-Unis de ne « pas interférer » dans sa politique
"EU asks US not to interfere in its politics" (Le Monde 10 February 2017)
La Corée du Nord tire un missile pour provoquer Trump. "North Korea launches a missile to provoke Trump (Sud Ouest 12 February 2017)
L'Allemagne se dote d'un président "anti-Trump" "Germany boasts having an "anti-Trump" president" (Le Point 12 February 2017)
« Donald Trump bat tous les records d’impopularité à son entrée en fonctions »
"Donald Trump enters office setting record for unpopularity" (Le Monde 20 January 2017)
Trump l'emporte, Marine Le Pen jubile "Trump takes election, Marine Le Pen rejoices" (Libération 9 November 2017)
Of course, French reporters and media titans do not necessarily represent the breadth of French public opinion about the US President. There are doubtless as many different views of Trump as there are political persuasions in France. For those who look favorably on Marine Le Pen and the rise of le front national, they see a kindred spirit in Trump's nationalistic policies and rhetoric. They support efforts to curb immigration and may even want France to hold its own version of the UK's Brexit vote. For those French who trend to center or to left of center, Trump is viewed as dangerously disruptive. They are particularly concerned about his pronouncements on everything ranging from women to Mexicans to NATO. His scandals are perhaps a little less relevant to this group, because they are quite used to Presidential infidelities and shocking statements from the mouths of Italian politicians.
French perspectives on US presidents have, from the very start, been quite complicated. The United States' first president, George Washington, was elected while France still had a monarch. The US sought and obtained the financial support of Louis XVI for its War of Independence from France's old geopolitical enemy Great Britain. Within several months though of Washington's taking office, the French launched their own bloody revolution and eventually executed king Louis. The second and third US presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, had each spent a good deal of time in France as diplomats before their presidencies and were thoroughly acquainted with French culture and politics (at least in the court and with the earlier revolutionaries).
An American cowboy in Paris
On the whole, France has been a staunch ally and supporter of US presidents. While this can be attributed to many causes, one reason is that in France there has always been a strong idea of the "American spirit" and an undercurrent of appreciation for Americanism. In Rousseau's time, the French celebrated the noble savage, le bon sauvage, who was uncorrupted by the artifice of civilization. Benjamin Franklin, who came to Paris on a diplomatic mission for the States to obtain aid from the French court, fit the bill (sort-of) achieving superstar status in France's courtly circles and salons. He was quite at home discussing physiocratic ideas and scientific observations, but he stood out with his strange American attire and came to symbolize all that was exciting and wild about the New World in general and the States in particular. The fascination with all things American blossomed in the nineteenth century, when France fell in love with the American cowboy. In her book Eiffel's Tower, Jill Jonnes tells the story of the 1889 Worlds Fair in Paris, the Exposition Universelle. The two great blockbusters of this exposition were Eiffel's Tower and America's Buffalo Bill Cody and his touring Wild West.
In more recent history, the French were bemused by George W Bush's ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots and by the fact that he'd never traveled to Europe before becoming President. If you think this might have led them to dismiss him outright as hopelessly provincial, think again; these qualities added a measure of appeal, living up to the French stereotype of Americans as wild independent types, free from restrictive social norms. Yes, perhaps les américains are naive because unschooled in the ways of the world--but they are also innocent, and innocence is good--except in the realm of politics and diplomacy, where it is a cardinal sin. The French do dearly appreciate skilled politicians and diplomats, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that the French fascination with George W Bush's Americanisms eventually came to an end (once embroiled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
Before you write off the French for having inaccurate views of Americans, consider some of the stereotypes that you hold about the French. Know thyself better by reading They Eat Horses Don't They?: The Truth about the French. In this book, Piu Marie Eatwell entertainingly describes 45 common myths about the French.