The French have always had a certain paternal curiosity with young America. As a nation, France has had a significant influence in the development of the United States and its democratic model and ideals. They have watched from afar, sometimes with disapproval, but more often with respect and admiration as l’enfant terrible has stretched and thrown tantrums through growing pains, internal conflict, the search for identity…and Donald J. Trump.
From the United States’ flag (red, white, and blue) to our nation’s capital, French influence survives in more places and ways than most Americans imagine. Our very way of life is a direct result of America’s ancestors fighting for independence alongside French revolutionaries who helped tipped the balances against the British.
Two French citizens who fought next to colonists during the Revolutionary War left long-lasting contributions to the nation’s independence. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette — commonly known in elementary history books as General Lafayette — earned a revered position in our earliest struggles as a hero of the American Revolution.
Lafayette’s fellow compatriot, Pierre Charles L’Enfant served on George Washington’s staff at Valley Forge, and then remained in America to design the capital. As Washington’s city planner, L’Enfant’s hallmark architecture is still visible today in the lasting foundation of America’s seat of government.
Beyond individual contributions, France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States over 130 years ago. Since her first majestic appearance in New York Harbor, Lady Liberty has become one of the most enduring symbols of America’s freedom and equality — values almost instilled, fostered, and perpetuated with the support of French friendship for two centuries.
Just fifty years into our nation’s fledgling existence, the French diplomat and philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville embarked on a journey to study our new experiment in democracy. He memorialized his travels in his seminal work “Democracy in America.” It was with a keen eye and understanding that de Tocqueville examined the evolving socio-political reality of the United States. His work has remained a guiding light on America’s development for over one hundred years.
The French have enjoyed and endured America’s kindnesses and abuses both. They rejoiced for the liberation of their country from the hands of the Nazi’s after World War II and then suffered the invasion of Mickey Mouse in 1992. Over half of our nation’s forty-five presidents have had a proficient use of the French language and enjoyed a mutually affable relationship with the French people. Then the French tolerated George W. Bush and “freedom fries” and worse…Donald J. Trump who cannot even manage a commanding use of English, let alone a foreign language.
Despite a rocky start to continued Franco-American relations under the Trump regime, it is no surprise that President Emmanuel Macron extended an invitation to Trump to attend Bastille Day celebrations. Macron’s diplomacy and maturity demonstrate the enduring French commitment to the United States — as examples, mentors, and guardians of a truly democratic way of governance and life.
The French, the newly elected Macron, too, epitomize — even in the face of the obtuseness that arrives with an abrasive novice like Trump — the principal values and philosophies that our adolescent nation still strives daily to achieve. The French possess the temperament of a wise grand-père who can teach the most unctuous child a lesson without raising his voice. Macron will speak sagaciously and kindly to Trump’s deaf and senseless ears because it is what the French do for the benefit of all, and Macron will be all the more presidential for his efforts.
As Trump bumbles around Paris gawking at, objectifying, and offending Brigitte Macron as only Trump can, he embarrasses America. We cringe every time he opens his mouth, feel shame with each Tweet, and laugh nervously at his socially inept gaffes. While the French have given the United States influence and direction, they cannot — nor do they believe they can — force us to adopt all of their most endearing traits. They cannot make us like or accept Trump and they likely will not be able to make Trump understand that he must act for the nation and not himself.
The French embrace their national motto “Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité,” and exercise its principles in every aspect of life. They are an undying inspiration to America. If only we could get them to keep Trump on a permanent vacation at Disneyland Paris. Vive la revolution! Vive la France!