For reasons that do us no credit, Americans find it easy to insult the French. Perhaps we hate their freedoms – their freedom to live for something other than money, their freedom to enjoy food and sex minus 400 years of Protestant guilt.
We call the French “cheese-eating surrender monkeys;” we sneer at John Kerry and Mitt Romney because they speak French. At the Oct. 28th debate, Jeb Bush tried to get clever about Congress’ laziness, accusing them of adhering to a “French work week.”
When the French refused to participate in our perfectly stupid invasion of Iraq, we boycotted their wine and some particularly silly congressmen demanded that the House cafeterias serve “Freedom Fries,” and “Freedom Toast.”
Now that Paris has suffered terrorist attacks that killed at least 132, some Americans are expressing sympathy and solidarity with France.
President Obama called it an “attack on the civilized world.” Buildings from 1 World Trade Center in New York to a bridge in Nashville lit themselves up with the blue, white and red of the French tricoleur. Nous sommes tous Parisiens.
Then there’s the Republican Party. Donald Trump castigated the French for their “tough gun control laws.” If only everyone in the concert hall and the restaurant and the stadium had been toting AK-47s like the terrorists, things would have been very different. Newt Gingrich and Anne Coulter piled on, blaming France for not being armed.
The politicizing got so bad that Red State’s Erick Erickson, a big gun-hugger himself, tweeted: “I gotta say, it does feel a little icky to turn this attack in Paris into a debate on how France should adopt our 2nd amendment.”
Naturally, it’s all Barack Obama’s fault. He didn’t keep U.S. troops in Iraq; he didn’t deal with Syria; he hurt Israel’s feelings; he refuses to utter the words “radical Islam.”
We all know that those are magic words, words that would solve the problem.
Criticizing Obama’s Syria policy is fair enough: It’s been disastrous. But blaming him for ISIL absolves the neocons of the Bush-Cheney administration whose trigger-happy invasion of Iraq and cavalier treatment of the country, especially the Rummy-Wolfie-Cheney de-Baathification program, poured gasoline on the flame of extremism.
Trump would probably describe France as a “loser” country, with its paid maternity leave, fast trains, humane employment laws, and excellent healthcare system. The French, in turn, reject “Anglo-Saxon capitalism” as rapacious and destructive.
Nevertheless, the United States could learn from France – as we have always learned from France.
French philosophers inspired our Founding Fathers with the idea that government should serve its citizens and that freedom was a human right. Rousseau argued for the state’s “social contract” with the individual; Voltaire championed civil rights and religious freedom; Montesquieu advocated for the separation of powers in government.
What, you thought we came up with that all by ourselves?
The French tradition of reason, of rational thought, of respect for knowledge, might help Republican presidential candidates get past their hysterical responses. Ted Cruz says ISIL is “coming to America.” Jeb Bush says the U.S. should focus on “Christian refugees”: They’re welcome in the U.S. as long as we make sure they’re the real deal, you know, give them a catechism exam, ask them to eat a bacon sandwich, and see whether they say “Merry Christmas!” instead of “Happy Holidays.”
Ben Carson wants to ban any and all refugees from the Middle East. That’ll learn ’em. Because Obama’s going to let in 200,000 Syrians who are almost certainly psychopathic jihadis. Carson would bomb an oil field to make ISIL “look like losers.”
Trump wants to bomb, too: all the oil fields. Then Exxon can come in and make everything, as he said, “beautiful.” And, according to him, it’s 250,000 Syrian refugees.
The real number proposed by Obama is 10,000.
But why let the facts get in the way of a good piece of political insanity? And under no circumstances should we remember that terrorists are often homegrown: Timothy McVeigh, the London suicide bombers in 2005, Anders Behring Breivik, and Dylan Roof were native to the nation they tried to attack.
If nothing else, perhaps the Republicans will stop with the French-bashing and remember that if it were not for France, the United States would not exist. The French government sent guns, soldiers and money during the American Revolution, and the Marquis de Lafayette spent millions of his own fortune on American independence.
The French deserve better than to be told they should be just like us.
Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Her latest book is “TRIBAL: College football and the Secret Heart of America.”