Donald Trump has France Talking

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- "Can I ask you a professional question?" my French dentist said to me last week as I was easing into his chair. "Do you think Donald Trump is going to win? I'm not asking what you think of him personally. I just want to know whether you think that he has a chance of winning."

It's a question that's becoming increasingly frequent here as a topic of newspaper editorials, television programs and casual conversations.

This is a country that overwhelmingly embraced the idea of a Barack Obama presidency before anyone really knew what he would accomplish in office. The French simply liked the idea of Obama, and like many Americans at the time, they projected their hopes onto the image that Obama was presenting.

They're projecting again now, but in the case of Trump they're projecting equally unwarranted skepticism.

Here's a big reason for the negative reaction to Trump in France: The sort of blunt rhetoric that Trump uses isn't something that you hear in France, particularly from those seeking high office. This is partly because the nuances of the French language allow for several ways to say the same thing -- especially when you're telling someone off -- which is why it's considered the language of diplomacy. Trump just straight-up tells people off. Sometimes he does it in a hilarious way, but it leaves the French wanting for the witty repartee and the rhetorical jousting that they prefer.

It's ironic that so many people in France find Trump distasteful, because the French admire the ability of Americans to market and sell themselves -- from the U.S. military to American CEOs with household names. Donald Trump isn't doing anything different from what Steve Jobs did at the launch of every Apple product, touting it as the greatest thing ever.

French CEOs don't use bombast to sell themselves, and communications consultants here will tell you that their clients breach their comfort zone with the mere thought of self-promotion. Yet the French admire Jobs and the Apple empire that he built -- which would have been impossible had he followed French style of marketing and communications. How exactly was Jobs any different from Trump? He wasn't. Only their products differ.

A debate program on France 2, the primary state-run television channel, recently addressed the following topic: "That a Donald Trump could become president of the United States, should we laugh or cry?"

It's amusing that the self-styled French elites, whose careers are often sustained by incestuous cronyism and taxpayer largesse, look down their noses at an independent, self-made entrepreneur whose name is emblazoned on his professional accomplishments around the world, from Dubai to Panama City. This is a country in which future "elites" are asked to include their parents' names and occupations in their university entrance applications -- you know, so as not to risk denying anyone their nepotistic advantage.

The headline of a recent full-page editorial in the free commuter newspaper Direct Matin screamed, "TRUMP, SCÉNARIO CATASTROPHE." In the editorial, Jean-Marie Colombani, former editor-in-chief of the daily French paper Le Monde, called Trump an "extremist populist, incontrollable and simplistic, who has nothing to do with the rest of the world."

Colombani also seems to think that Obama "created 13 million jobs." Right, perhaps if you count unskilled and low-paying jobs that aren't full-time and don't allow people to support themselves. And the Americans paying increased health care premiums probably would have rolled their eyes at Colombani's heralding of the 6 percent increase in the number of those with health care coverage under Obama's new plan.

Apparently spin is all right as long as the nonsense is couched in polite wording. But the blunt truth? Oh mon dieu, we can't have that.

What seems to escape French commentators is that simple speech doesn't necessarily translate into simple-mindedness. Which is why it's essential to look beyond words and examine a person's previous actions to ascertain how he handles complexity. All American presidents must contend with the messy logistics of Washington once they get to work -- but it's a relentlessly clear vision that stays on course. A muddled vision tends not to go the distance.

Here in the style capital of the world, it's not surprising that aesthetics would play a significant role in how Parisians (and the French people as a whole) evaluate political candidates. The mistake in doing so is failing to dig deep enough to consider the man behind the suit, his actions and accomplishments.