Mr Trump may not be everybody’s tasse de thé. He is certainly highly controversial, and far from the sort of person who usually ends up being elected as a head of government. His campaign, like his life, had been littered with statements about women, immigrants and foreigners that make even Boris Johnson look restrained.
But he had just been democratically elected, and more to the point had been democratically elected as head of state of one of France’s leading allies. It manifestly didn’t impress M Araud, but isn’t the point about diplomacy that, in order to maintain some sort of influence with the rulers of other countries, one keeps such combustible thoughts to oneself?
Trump-haters around the globe rejoiced in the ambassador’s remarks. That the tweet was subsequently deleted suggested that, on reflection, the Quai d’Orsay realised it was better not to start off a relationship that may have to last up to eight years on such a note. Mind you, President Hollande was little better: he congratulated Mr Trump “as is natural between two democratic heads of state”, but then qualified this by saying the world was headed for an era of “uncertainty”.
Added to remarks made by Angela Merkel, who seemed to be giving Mr Trump a dressing down rather than congratulating him, such observations by the French simply compounded the views of many Trump supporters that Europe was run by out-of-touch elites who feel they have a divine right to rule and whose estrangement from the voters should come as no surprise. Whatever this means for France’s and Europe’s relations with America, it doesn’t sound good.
Mr Trump and his friends look at the European economy and its migration crisis and see a continent that has lost its way and made a succession of serious policy mistakes. They also applaud Britain’s decision to leave an EU the Trumpettes regard as undemocratic and dysfunctional, and have natural sympathy with the aspirations of Marine Le Pen to do the same: she welcomed Mr Trump’s election unreservedly.
There was horror in France, shortly before the inauguration, that Mr Trump gave an interview to two European journals (The Times and Bild) and didn’t mention France once. M Araud’s idiotic outburst has manifestly not been forgotten: but Mr Trump appears also to have looked at a France that is socialist, corporatist, syndicalist, and struggling economically, and decided he does not need it.
Mr Trump appears also to have looked at a France that is socialist, corporatist, syndicalist, and struggling economically, and decided he does not need it.
Germany, as Europe’s main power, he cannot ignore: and having had a Scottish mother and long-running investments in the United Kingdom, he is well-disposed to having Britain as a trading partner. Probably the most distressing thing for France and its other EU partners is that a pro-British America will make Brexit all the more palatable for Britain and help it avoid dire economic consequences.
The question is whether France should take it personally that, in the words of Le Parisien, Mr Trump is “frankly not interested” in France. I doubt Mr Trump is frankly very interested in more than a handful of countries – the UK, Germany, Russia, China and Mexico come to mind, plus whatever part of the Middle East ISIS happens to be destroying at any given time.
Of course, France is not Latvia or Papua New Guinea, or any of the other countries that are doubtless not on the presidential radar: it is a leading player in the world. That is why M Araud’s dart will have hurt so much, and why the punishment may have to be severe.
Of course, Mr Trump has to be careful. France has a less straightforward history in its participation in NATO, which he regards as “obsolete”, than any other member state. He is certainly angry that EU countries do not make a satisfactory contribution to it, and that America has to bear a disproportionate part of the burden when it is Europe that is more vulnerable to, say, the ambitions of his friend
France might consider pulling out altogether if America maintains its unfriendliness; but if it did it would be augmenting Europe’s vulnerability to Russia. Manuel Valls, aspiring to be the Parti Socialiste candidate for the presidency, spoke of a relationship between Putin and Trump being “the end of the world”.
Amour propre appears to have been damaged on both sides. The Germans are more realistic about having to get on with the US, and perhaps it will have to be they who broker some sort of reconciliation between America and France. It won’t happen this side of the French presidential election: M Hollande will almost certainly see no point in exercising himself about this.
In the end, though, Mr Trump will be led by the State Department in how he deals with other nations, especially America’s allies. He promises to be a president who delegates much. Somebody in Washington will be making it his business at this very moment to hold out the hand of friendship to France, whether Mr Trump knows it or not. Before too long, Air Force One will touch down at Orly, and speeches will be made about the historic relations between France and America. It would be well to ignore the rhetoric, or lack of it, until then.
Simon Heffer is also a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs