Le mur

The wall

There was a lot of talk about walls yesterday. The ‘anti-fascist protection’ one that came down in 1989, the year my son was born. The one that Trump has promised to build – and get the Mexicans to pay for. The one that Canada may need to hold back the tide of fleeing Americans. When Canada’s immigration site crashed sometime in the wee hours yesterday, well before the results were in, the writing was surely on the wall.

Sitting in France, working in Switzerland and with roots in Canada, I was surprised at how deeply affected we all were by the news that there would be a – gulp – President Trump.

We are not American, even though the US president is thought to lead the so-called ‘free’ world. My Canadian family and friends can rightly quake, living in the shadow of the giant and sometimes feeling a little like its 51st state. Culturally, we are distinct; economically, less so.

Switzerland is home to many expats, some of whom are my friends and colleagues. As much as I wanted the polls to be right, I had spoken to people – articulate, smart people – who admitted they would vote for Trump. I’d witnessed the hatred for Hillary, and the refusal of Trump supporters to take seriously any charges against him. What would it take, I wondered? Explicit evidence of child pornography? My gut told me the polls were a reflection of what the influencers wanted to see.

Here in France, as I listened to talk about the election results yesterday, I found myself thinking about the invisible wall that exists between us and the US. While there is a strong, longstanding friendship between the two countries, that barrier is real on so many levels – cultural, linguistic, political.

Watching a French TV panel that included Christine Ockrent, a respected journalist who is married to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) founder Dr. Bernard Kouchner, discussing Trump alongside a young blonde American member of the Republicans in France, that wall could not have been more evident. Although the American woman spoke French very well, the wall came down on the French faces as quickly and as surely as if a door had shut. Was it her very-American accent, her direct way of saying things or simply her open-faced support of the man who is perceived as a monster here in France?

Alongside her sat another woman, who had formerly worked for Hillary Clinton. Although these two women sat on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I was struck by the fact that they appeared to have more in common than they did with any of the French panelists. No matter what, Americans will proudly defend their country’s democratic process as being the expression of its popular will. The French, for all that they resist until death, will allow themselves to be led by their elected elites.

The wall is cultural, and it is also political. The French openly dislike anything so crass and populist and commercial as Trump. And although many will vote for Marine LePen and the far-right Front National, two things hold her back from ever becoming President: the first is class. She doesn’t have it. Nor does Sarkozy, which goes a long way to explaining why he was not re-elected and is unlikely to make a comeback. The second is that the political elites in this country, supported by the French people, will not allow it. The post-war fear of fascism is just too strong. So opposing political parties will band together in order to block what is seen as dangerous.

As much as this country has its problems, and you know that I have no hesitation in calling them out, the particular horror of a Trump in power would not happen here. Nor, with all due respect to my British friends, would a Brexit. But the two movements are not dissimilar, and that is another reason why it is frightening. Both seem to believe they can and should shut their borders, live as islands sufficient unto themselves. While this is harder to imagine in the UK, the potential economic fall-out from US trade restrictions is huge.

But whether or not they build any more walls, le mur is already there.


  1. Multifarious meanderings · November 10, 2016

    I didn’t see that debate – shame. I’d love to share your conviction that MLP won’t succeed, I really would. My gut feeling is that France is will wake with an electoral hang-over and find a darker shade of blue at the Elysée next year, but I hope I’m wrong.

    • MELewis · November 10, 2016

      We’ll find out soon enough. Fingers crossed that I am right! 😉

  2. francetaste · November 10, 2016

    There are ever fewer people who remember fascism. It is too convenient to point at somebody and blame them for taking jobs or getting handouts or whatever. Global trade and immigration are good for economies, but instead of distributing the benefits and helping those who are displaced, the rich have set it up so they get all the benefits. The fault isn’t trade or immigration; the fault is a system that feeds income inequality. Yet the people who are hurting chose a guy who wants to raise their taxes while cutting taxes on the rich.

    • MELewis · November 10, 2016

      You’re right – the system we live by is outmoded and needs to be changed. Somehow, we need to create a new one that will ensure that everyone, no matter where they’re born, has a fair chance at a decent life. Not sure how we’ll get there but it seems that change is in the air.

  3. coteetcampagne · November 10, 2016

    Its all crazy.
    These words trip from my mouth right now, and I may have the tee-shirt printed,…….. I thought I had woken up in an alternate universe five months ago (Brexit) and yesterday I was absolutely sure that I had.

    I also believe that the same kind of”we want change and we’re gonna vote for it” views brought us Brexit and Trump and simply fuel the jingoistic isolationist racist ant-immigration wave of nausea that’s brought these formerly unimaginable and unpredictable behemoths into being.
    Heaven help us.
    I think, on balance, I respect the French world view; at least they have pride and vision for their country and a highly developed sense of their own cultural and political identity. I quite admire stubborn and entrenched sometimes.

    • MELewis · November 10, 2016

      “Jingoistic isolationist racist ant-immigration wave of nausea” – well said!!! Perhaps the silver lining is seeing that we have new respect for shared values.

  4. zipfslaw1 · November 10, 2016

    It’s hard to make sense of the whole thing. The dominant feelings in the US right now, as far as I can tell from where I’m sitting at the moment (central China): shock and puzzlement. The dominant question: how did that just happen??

    Chinese joke: Trump–the last US president.

    • MELewis · November 10, 2016

      I can’t even imagine how it feels to experience this shit-show from the cultural perspective of an American sitting in China. That’s worth a post! 😉

  5. Suzanne et Pierre · November 10, 2016

    We also thought it was possible for Trump to win because Americans aren’t yet ready for a Female President. Clinton did come with a huge baggage attached to her name but the main reason most people hate her is that she is an ambitious woman and that isn’t yet well seen. It is OK for a man but not for a woman. I believe your analysis of the polls is right on…they were talking too much to people who think like them and also there were a lot of closet Trump supporters (people who were a bit ashamed to publicly say they were supporters). It is will be interesting to see how it unfolds and the hints on who is going to be on his Cabinet is certainly nothing to reassure us. In reality, it was a strong divide between cities and rural areas. Clinton actually won the popular vote by a slim margin but it was spread across the States and didn’t allow her to win enough of them. Also, the participation rate was much lower than had anticipated and the people who were Democrats supporter didn’t vote because they couldn’t support Clinton.

    As for the Canadian Immigration site, according to some of the Google analysis the views that made it crashed were coming from a lot of countries outside of the US because people were curious to see what Americans would have to go through to immigrate here. It isn’t a sign that there will be a huge waves of Americans coming to Canada. Americans say they will move after every election that brings a President they don’t like but the waves never come. For one, it isn’t a lot easier to immigrate to Canada than it is for us to immigrate to the US…

    As for Marine Le Pen, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss her chances to win or to at least get a lot more representation…there seems to be a similar swell of disgruntled people in France as in the US and you never know what could happen. (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · November 11, 2016

      Thanks for your thoughtful and informative reply, Suzanne. You are right: we must not be complacent about Le Pen and the risks of a Front National sweep. In the past, the French political class managed to unite to keep them out but it may be that like with Brexit and the US elections, a surprising result may occur. Trump’s victory should serve as a wakeup call for us!

  6. Osyth · November 10, 2016

    I remain (mainly) decorously silent as a guest in the US but I will comment that it seems to me that the whole world is intent on walling itself in whilst simultaneously expecting good relations with everyone else. As I used to say so often to my children ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it …. think about it, don’t argue with me, you simply can’t’. The world is swinging to the right. It is not a palatable thought. But what we really need to dwell on is why there are so many disenchanted people and how on earth they are being led by the nose so readily. By the way, witnessing the debacle at first hand educated me in the fact that the press here are absolutely biased to the extreme. If anyone is responsible for what happened, they are. Because they openly championed Hillary leaving Trump as the underdog. It seems that many did not bother to vote. Many democrats that is. Perhaps a little decorum and a reflection of democracy in their hallowed debates might have ended in the result they so openly sought. Thank you for this thought provoking piece. I really enjoyed it. IN a particularly uncomfortable way!

    • MELewis · November 11, 2016

      I think we are witnessing the end of an era, or the beginning of some kind of deep change. Our social system is broken, and we need a new business model for the world to work in what has become a global village. I may be naïve, but all I can say is that there are so many signs of dysfunction in our society that we cannot help but see a pattern. As for your observations of the media being biased, I think they were part of the problem along with the polls. Instead of mirroring society, they bounced light back on the world and distorted the picture. Glad you enjoyed my rant! 😉

      • Osyth · November 11, 2016

        I think they ARE the problem. I did 18th and 19th history for A level when God was a boy and I remember all the issues regarding the media stemming for Hogarth satirical pictures and the pleading from various prime ministers for them to take caution and ensure that they were giving balanced information so the public could make informed choices (the public being the entitled in those days of course) – I believe we are balanced on the edge of a precipice globally and that the press and media have a duty to clean up their act and stop being quite so partisan and quite so dirty. This time it backfired miserably and yet I see them patting themselves on the backs and fanning the flames of discontent which are about to explode here. You and I should run the world, M’dame L!

  7. Dana · November 10, 2016

    Very powerful post.We are all mourning today.

    • MELewis · November 11, 2016

      Thank you, Dana. I feel your pain!

  8. G Perrier · November 11, 2016

    Very good post. I really hope that you are right about Marine LePen not having a chance at being elected. I’ve been discussing the American presidential results with my French friends and I asked one of them if she was worried about Le Pen being elected. She replied with what her husband said, “Marine, c’est le 3e étage de la fusée !” It means : first step : Brexit, second step : Trump, third step : Marine à l’Elysée…I hope that common sense will prevail.

    • MELewis · November 11, 2016

      I may be overly optimistic but I sincerely hope your friend’s husband is just being ‘catastrophiste!’. So far I have faith in the French not allowing themselves to be so manipulated, but the FN is indeed a risk that we cannot ignore. Glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Food,Photography & France · November 12, 2016

      So do I…and let’s hope the French people do too.

  9. Food,Photography & France · November 12, 2016

    The most cogent piece that I have yet read on the recent, unexpected events. I too am an immigrant but it is the very values that the French hold dear and which you have expressed so clearly that make me feel at home here. Thank you.

    • MELewis · November 12, 2016

      High praise indeed, Monsieur! So very pleased to have captured something that speaks to your heart.

  10. Mél@nie · November 12, 2016

    very accurate analysis, Mel dear… it’s still unreal, unbelievable, on en est “sonnés”… sounds like a sick joke or a never-ending nightmare: the new POTUS has been supported and ‘celebrated’ by the KKK ‘specimens’… 😦
    * * *
    I do NOT think le FN(F-haine!) could win next year…

    • MELewis · November 18, 2016

      Happy that you agree the hate-front won’t win (although we must be on guard to ensure they don’t get too close)….even happier than my analysis rings true with you. Not over the shock yet but as you say, it’s a never-ending nightmare. Let’s stay strong together! Merci Melanie!

  11. Bea dM · November 21, 2016

    You were right about Sarkozy. But I’m afraid I wouldn’t be so sure about Le Pen. Populism has reared its ugly head in Europe too, and it doesn’t look too closely at class or manners. Do keep an eye on next month’s Dec 4 vote in Italy …

    • MELewis · November 21, 2016

      Yes, I fear populism, especially that rooted in xenophobia, is gaining momentum around the world. Reassuring to see the result of the first round of the centre-right primary here in France, however; if he wins the candidacy, I think Fillon has a chance of bringing together (de rassembler) the French.

  12. midihideaways · November 21, 2016

    I so hope you are right about MLP – I’m not sure I could bear to stay in France if that was the way the country voted. Just finishing Joachim Fest’s Not I – a very interesting story about the author’s youth in Nazi Germany. Food for thought!

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