From time to time over the past few days people here in France have asked me what is going on in America. No one, it is fair to say, thinks that very much good is happening in the USA. And they all understand that when bad things happen in America, the bad tends to cast a shadow over other parts of the world.
While America seems to be disintegrating, France seems to be coming together. It's a tale of two presidents. Barack Obama is using the massacre of police officers in Dallas to divide the country. French president Francois Hollande united the country against Islamist terrorism after the shootings at the Bataclan concert hall.
Beyond the fact that it is impossible not to see that the racial healing promised by the Obama administration has not come to pass, in terms of racial divisiveness, Obama has been a calamity. He continues to refuse to name America's enemies and continues to use these tragedies to push his gun control meme... thus turning Americans against other Americans.
Yesterday, USA Today headlined the fact that Obama wanted to focus on unity after the shootings. And then, as we read down the story we discover that Obama refused to notice that the gunman was acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, some of whose members have been calling for the murder of policemen, but blamed it all on the shooter's "troubled mind." Ah yes, let's not call the enemy by its name. Let's avoid, again, uniting the nation against a common enemy. Better to divide the nation, in Obama style, setting black against white. Because it's all the fault of the NRA.
In France, however, the nation was united this weekend over a soccer match. Not just any soccer match, mind you, but the European championship, in which France hosted Portugal. Many French were slightly surprised to find themselves in the finals and were despondent over the eventual loss to what was considered a weaker Portuguese team.
Yet, what was striking to this foreigner, was that this mere match allowed the people of France to unite, to feel as one, to show the colors, proudly and unashamedly. Coming from the United States where some communities have told veterans not to fly the flag, and where others consider patriotism an offense against Mexicans, where American history is taught as a crime against humanity, where no one is allowed to feel proud of the accomplishments of great Americans, the showing of the colors was an impressive sight, indeed.
I was in Aix-en-Provence at the time. People were walking through the public squares carrying French flags, wearing clothes that were red, white and blue, even wearing face paint in the national colors. Everyone was together. Everyone was united. It was France against the world, if you like, and the French were happy to take on the fight.
When people asked me what I thought about this sense of national unity and even purpose, I told them that at least they had a president who was an unabashed patriot, who had worked to unite the nation after the terrorist attack by naming the common enemy and who had made it clear that bad behavior was no longer going to be tolerated. The French policemen were given free reign to crack down on Islamists. You did not hear a word about Islamophobia.
The result, for the most part people in France, as well as I could ascertain, are upbeat. They are unfailingly polite, with a few instances of traditional Gallic insolence. People go about their business without the sense that their neighbors are their enemies. Good manners make a difference. In Obama's America, they have been all but forgotten. In Hollande's France they are on public display.
None of it means that the political situation in France is clear or decided. Hollande is doing a good job, but he is heartily disliked by the vast majority of the people. He has attacked the special interests, especially those who, like the labor unions, tend always to vote for socialists. The radical left despises Hollande. Which means that he has shown that much more political courage. It might not translate into votes but it does give you the sense that the nation is trying to address its major problems: taxes and bureaucratic regulation.
It is worth noting that Hollande came to power promising to tax the rich, the better to pay for the excessively generous French welfare state. Within two years he had lost a series of local elections and decided that he needed to change course. He removed his prime minister and installed a new one whose orientation was more free market, and less socialistic. In place of a Piketty-like tax scheme, the new government is trying, with great difficulty, to enact free market reforms.
A united nation is not necessarily a nation where everyone agrees. But it respects political leaders who love their country and are willing to do what they consider to be the best for their country... regardless of the political cost. But, it is a nation where everyone feels that he belongs and that he is willing to fight an enemy that the president is willing to name.