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France on the US election: broadening the lens

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - US election - presidential election - 2016 - Donald Trump - Hillary Clinton - France - USA

As lovers of French culture living in the US, it’s often brought home to us how narrow a lens we use to view our own country.

In such a momentous time as the recent presidential US election, we withdraw further into ourselves, having zoomed-in debates over subtopics at a time when we need to look at the bigger picture.

The US election: a French perspectiveMyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - US election - presidential election - 2016 - Donald Trump - Hillary Clinton - France - USA - vote - voting - polls

Luckily, this is where the French come in. As with other countries, they tend to pay much more attention to us than we do to them. For those seeking a more global perspective on the US election, this is useful.

It’s no secret that the French aren’t big fans of Donald Trump. Per Le Figaro, 86% of French voters preferred Hillary Clinton, including 56% in the far-right Front Nationale, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, strongly supports Trump. This slant is no surprise to those familiar with French society’s liberalness. However, despite the support for Clinton at the popular and political level, the French have a long way to go in the struggle for equal female representation in politics.

But how has the French press covered the lead-up to and denouement of the recent US election? A glance through the French dailies shows coverage from a variety of angles.

Intriguingly, some of this coverage tries to convey a sense of the US political landscape, such as a Le Monde piece using FSU as a “microcosm” for the country’s youth. It concludes millennials are tired of elites and want a change, but not from the available candidates. As a member of this generation, this feels true, but such a broad assessment is rare.

Commentary on Trump’s election comes from throughout French public life: a Le Parisien article on French politicians’ fearing a Trump effect in France links to a question asking readers whether they share this fear. Here, we see a variety of responses, but the typical US-comment-section vitriol is missing, aligning with the idea of French political discourse as more measured than our own.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - US election - presidential election - 2016 - Donald Trump - pledge - France - USA

Les Américains et les Français en dialogue

We could dismiss this difference as due to the huge France-US culture gap, but it fits well into a political context. The French, understandably, focus on the impact of our election in their country, and on the social forces that brought about Trump’s victory. Thus, they remind us of the US’s role as a global leader and question what President Trump will mean for that role.

Lessons from France

Taking this all together, what can the French teach us about ourselves?

First, the coverage reminds us that the US doesn’t exist in a vacuum: our politics have a profound global impact. Specifically, the Le Monde piece on FSU shows the importance of considering large-scale trends, not just popular hashtags and exit polls.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - US election - presidential election - 2016 - Donald Trump -make america great again - France - USA

Most importantly, this investigation reveals one of the greatest joys of learning another language and culture: fascinating new insights into ourselves and the world around us. Whatever your views on the US election, French commentary shows us the importance of stepping back and using this outside perspective to broaden our lens.


What has your understanding of French society and culture taught you about your own, in politics or elsewhere? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below – Here is your chance to challenge and interact with Alex the author.


Image credits:
1. ‘Hispanic and Latino Americans’, via wikipedia.
2. ‘Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’, via wikimedia commons.
3. ‘Usa, Vote, Election, Political, Voting’, via pixabay.
4. ‘Donald Trump Signs The Pledge 14’, via wikimedia commons.
5. ‘Make America Great Again’, via wikipedia.


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