As we have done for the past three decades, my wife Caro and I spent part of the summer at our home in the south of France. Our village, just south of Grasse, is an international community of 80 families, approximately one-third French; one-third Northern European (including Britain, Holland, and Scandinavia), and one-third other (including three American families).
This summer, I was struck by the number of my neighbors, as well as others in the region, sporting American apparel and speaking English. They like Americans and admire America.
However, when it comes to American politics, they’re somewhere between perturbed and apoplectic. Though envious of our continued economic prowess, which has greatly outpaced the growth in most of Europe, they are aghast by the lack of civility, morality and fraternity in the United States, and many voiced their disgust for President Donald Trump. This attitude is not altogether new. Over the past 30 years, we’ve heard American presidents reviled by these neighbors: President Reagan was a “cowboy;” President Bush 41 was a “war monger;” President Clinton was a “philanderer;” President Bush 43 was a “Frat Boy;” and President Obama, though generally viewed positively, was an “aloof professor.”
However, the disdain for our current president has reached a new level of vituperation. At best, they see Trump as a “disrupter” who is reviving the U.S. economy, rebuilding the U.S. military, and re-establishing U.S. preeminence. Some of our British friends, mostly those who support Brexit, are quiet admirers. At worst, Trump is seen as an “ultra-nationalist” who is undermining American democracy, fracturing the Western Alliance, and endangering the planet.
Though they have respect and admiration for America’s embrace of change, innovation, and even disruption, they believe the country under Trump has taken steps backwards in terms of social justice, racial tolerance and gender equality. In regard to the latter, they underscore the continuing progress in Europe as evidenced by several of our female neighbors who are top executives in their home countries including the CEO of a very large state oil company, the chair of a powerful energy commission, and the head of an international fashion house bearing her family name. Women in Europe work at the top levels, and European boards have significant female representation, often much greater than the U.S. where women represent only one fifth of all directors and one sixth of public companies have all-male boards. Several European countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Norway, have mandated legally binding quotas for female representation on boards. Given that many of their governments are led by women, notably Germany, greater female board representation is not surprising.
My European neighbors see their own governments advancing the talent, experience and initiative of women in fields of government, business and the professions. In stark contrast, they believe Trump is retarding, if not reversing, the progress of American women. Consequently, many of my European friends will welcome the upcoming mid-term elections where a significant majority of American women are expected to punish the president for his seemingly “anti-women” positions.