Despite Donald Trump and COVID-19, the cultural proximity and emotional similarity between France and the United States have never been this obvious.
The United States celebrates its independence from the British on July 4. The French commemorate the storming of the Bastille on July 14. The former celebrates the repudiation of colonization and the severing of ties with original Europe. The latter applaud the end of aristocratic power, having brandished the heads of the absolutists on pikes. Today, far from this 18th century of raw passion, the two countries still engage in the same rituals, which is proof of either stability or stagnation, depending on your preference. Facing the starred flag, Americans stand straight and proud, hands over their hearts. Looking up the flag, the French, and I am one of them, still feel that lingering mockery, eyes shining with gullibility and faces pouting with displeasure toward those with whom they disagree. After the 2015 terrorist attacks, the French flag found some renewed favor. But soon enough, it was only taken out of the keepsake box for things like sport victories. Despite differences in attitude, the two universes are more alike than anyone could have imagined. As different from each other as dogs and cats for a long time, these nations seem to have put aside antagonism, and their people seem to be in cultural, technological, emotional and visual fusion. It has become somewhat difficult to distinguish them, to the point where it is no longer clear why we celebrate two holidays, the 4th and the 14th.
While he inspires revulsion in France, Donald Trump is also a tree of bigotry hiding in the nearby forest. Long gone is the attempt at seduction by Emmanuel Macron on the morning of his first July 14: a parade of toy soldiers, small dishes in great rooms, dinner together at the Eiffel Tower and embraces over ratatouille, which, in the COVID-19 era, seems like health pornography. Today, Trump’s threatened country seems to be hiding behind the walls he is raising against immigrants, just as Macron’s France is prohibiting American friends infected by the virus from arriving on its soil without a visa. But this distance is circumstantial, and the way the two countries are and the way they do things have never been so intertwined.
Anti-Americanism has often rooted itself in anticapitalist ground, riddled with Marxist rubble and strewn with the concrete blocks of workers. But the digital revolution has overturned this ideological geology. In Paris as elsewhere, we no longer snub Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple the way we once boycotted Coca Cola and McDonald’s. The disruption of standard uses and practices is so great that no one can precisely map out the opposing force fields. We know only that the untraceable center of this multipolar world is probably near Silicon Valley, which may soon be engulfed by the San Andreas Fault. Taking in value-added money has almost become a game. And management has the intelligence to make it seem like it cares for the careers of its constituents just before a flurry of firing them. The upheaval is so great and so earthshaking that no one recognizes that this so-called volatile wealth is increasingly being monopolized by a few moguls. This type always wears T-shirts and sneakers and ends up robbing their heirs to atone for tax evasion. Charitable giving is just their way of readjusting taxes, according to the neuroses of the donors.
The empire has a soft yet active grip. Cultural hegemony is increasingly accepted in its many forms. Netflix has made Hollywood outdated because complicated adult series are more in style than aggressive blockbusters about behavior change and social anxiety. Standardizing lifestyles and sanctifying differences are two sides of the same coin, one that allows the purchase of French differences at a lower cost. Through the seduction of fiction, America’s obsession with identity has taken over French individualism. A new opium for those who are very observant, this delightful display is paid for by exporting things that are prohibited and outsourcing censorship. And that is why, here too, we banish Woody Allen, we scorn Roman Polanski and L’Oreal blackens its whiteness by resorting to ridicule.
What is funny is that the same people who, at the high time of the French Communist Party and the Women’s Liberation Movement, stood up to Yankee domination, are today the peddlers of Americana. Academics and communitarians, feminists and antiracists are all heralds of a complaint about society, playing the heroes in a transnational narrative about the misfortunes of minorities. And the risk is that Trump and those who emulate him – not necessarily those from the (ultra- conservative) National Rally – those who can applaud Eric Zemmour one day and Jean Castex the next, will benefit from all of the protests and end up winning, thus making the two countries more alike as their ideology continues to spread.*
*Editor’s note: The National Rally, until June 2018 known as the National Front, is a far-right populist political party in France. Eric Zemmour is a French writer and political journalist known for his anti-liberal and anti-immigration positions. Jean Castex is the new prime minister of France.