Photo
Emmanuel Macron with President Trump during a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly this week. Credit Ludovic Marin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Oh, the eternal consolations of France, how satisfying they are. I am always happy when I am reminded of them.

The headline on the New York Times story was “Trump Threatens to ‘Totally Destroy’ North Korea.” In a Facebook comment about the piece, there was this laconic response from one Martina Vialard to the threatened apocalypse: “Il ne fera rien,” or “He will do nothing.”

There it is: the immortal, the inimitable French shrug, expression of the wisdom of a people who has seen it all and refuses to be rattled by hyperbole, seduced by blandishment or surprised by folly.

The purest expression of this shrug lies in the word “bof.” It conveys the contemptuous French dismissal of, say, a politician’s affair, and is the best retort I know to the hyperventilating, nasty outrage that has become the lingua franca of the social media age.

“Bof, c’est normal” — it’s normal, people more often reveal their weaknesses than discover the better angels of their nature. Trump — he of the small hands — dreams of a gigantic mushroom cloud. Normal, get used to it.

Continue reading the main story

The Trump headline, of course, alluded to our esteemed leader’s speech at the United Nations this week in which, borrowing without credit from Elton John, he called Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, a “Rocket Man.” Kim hit back by calling Trump a “dotard” (roughly, a person suffering from senile decay), which was kind of classy if a little recherché. “Dotard,” a word in vogue in Shakespearean times, is now a sure bet for revival.

Kim also noted, “A frightened dog barks louder.” This was interesting. The question always arises with Trump whether he is more coward than bully. You don’t have to be called Sigmund to sense that Trump’s bullying and pouting braggadocio reflect some deep cowardice. Is the combination more likely to produce action or inaction?

It could well be that Vialard will be proved right: big hat, no cattle. “Il ne fera rien.” He will do nothing. Bof.

Along with a handful of other journalists, I had a conversation this week in New York with Emmanuel Macron, the French president. He remarked that what Trump says “is not always what he does. And what he decides to implement.”

The young French leader suggested that Trump gets himself in “deadlock” with his various threats. “On these different issues,” Macron mused, “what’s his alternative? He doesn’t have any. On climate, even on Iran, there is no alternative. So we have to rebuild some multilateralism where the president finds his place.”

That will be tough. But Macron’s right about Trump’s self-imposed “deadlock.” The American president has not yet built his wall. He has not yet made his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord effective. He has not yet torn up the Iran nuclear accord.

The Macron conversation reminded me of French good sense. America likes to indulge the sentimental. It is constantly “preening in the mirror,” so as to avoid “looking in the mirror and remembering where the bodies are buried,” as Paul Beatty puts it in his roller-coaster of a novel, “The Sellout.”

France has little time for illusions. It has been disabused of them over time. As Saul Bellow observes in his novel “Ravelstein”: “The French were genuinely educated — or had been so once. They had taken a bad beating in this century. However, they had a real feeling for beautiful objects still, for leisure, for reading and conversation; they didn’t despise creaturely needs — the human basics.”

Some 40 years ago I was living in Paris and working for a cool start-up magazine called Paris Metro. I wrote a piece that started with my encounter in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with Marie-Claire, age 6, whose plastic ball had landed on my head. We got to talking; she told me how she played with her older brother, and I asked if he was nice to her.

“No, Monsieur,” she responded. “He bullies me all the time. He pushed me over, and calls me a sissy. He pulls my hair, and he breaks my toys. He never lets me win any games. He says that one day he’ll throw me into the pond, head first.”

What do you think of that?

“Bof,” Marie-Claire said. “C’est normal.”

Trump, of course, is not a normal president. He called Kim a “madman”; he should know. So I am happy that the European leader with whom Trump seems to have the strongest rapport is Macron, who can bring his country’s wisdom on “the human basics” to bear on Trump’s wild leanings. French antennae for the normal are also useful in detection of the abnormal.

Once upon a time I took a cab from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport and got stuck in traffic. It was a gorgeous morning, clear sky, spring in the air. I remarked on the beauty of the day to the driver. He turned to me and said:

“Bof, ça ne va pas durer, Monsieur,” – yeah, it won’t last, Sir. Nor will Trump. Il ne fera rien.

Continue reading the main story

Oh, the eternal consolations of France, how satisfying they are. I am always happy when I am reminded of them.

The headline on the New York Times story was “Trump Threatens to ‘Totally Destroy’ North Korea.” In a Facebook comment about the piece, there was this laconic response from one Martina Vialard to the threatened apocalypse: “Il ne fera rien,” or “He will do nothing.”

There it is: the immortal, the inimitable French shrug, expression of the wisdom of a people who has seen it all and refuses to be rattled by hyperbole, seduced by blandishment or surprised by folly.

The purest expression of this shrug lies in the word “bof.” It conveys the contemptuous French dismissal of, say, a politician’s affair, and is the best retort I know to the hyperventilating, nasty outrage that has become the lingua franca of the social media age.

“Bof, c’est normal” — it’s normal, people more often reveal their weaknesses than discover the better angels of their nature. Trump — he of the small hands — dreams of a gigantic mushroom cloud. Normal, get used to it.

The Trump headline, of course, alluded to our esteemed leader’s speech at the United Nations this week in which, borrowing without credit from Elton John, he called Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, a “Rocket Man.” Kim hit back by calling Trump a “dotard” (roughly, a person suffering from senile decay), which was kind of classy if a little recherché. “Dotard,” a word in vogue in Shakespearean times, is now a sure bet for revival.

Kim also noted, “A frightened dog barks louder.” This was interesting. The question always arises with Trump whether he is more coward than bully. You don’t have to be called Sigmund to sense that Trump’s bullying and pouting braggadocio reflect some deep cowardice. Is the combination more likely to produce action or inaction?

It could well be that Vialard will be proved right: big hat, no cattle. “Il ne fera rien.” He will do nothing. Bof.

Along with a handful of other journalists, I had a conversation this week in New York with Emmanuel Macron, the French president. He remarked that what Trump says “is not always what he does. And what he decides to implement.”

The young French leader suggested that Trump gets himself in “deadlock” with his various threats. “On these different issues,” Macron mused, “what’s his alternative? He doesn’t have any. On climate, even on Iran, there is no alternative. So we have to rebuild some multilateralism where the president finds his place.”

That will be tough. But Macron’s right about Trump’s self-imposed “deadlock.” The American president has not yet built his wall. He has not yet made his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord effective. He has not yet torn up the Iran nuclear accord.

The Macron conversation reminded me of French good sense. America likes to indulge the sentimental. It is constantly “preening in the mirror,” so as to avoid “looking in the mirror and remembering where the bodies are buried,” as Paul Beatty puts it in his roller-coaster of a novel, “The Sellout.”

France has little time for illusions. It has been disabused of them over time. As Saul Bellow observes in his novel “Ravelstein”: “The French were genuinely educated — or had been so once. They had taken a bad beating in this century. However, they had a real feeling for beautiful objects still, for leisure, for reading and conversation; they didn’t despise creaturely needs — the human basics.”

Some 40 years ago I was living in Paris and working for a cool start-up magazine called Paris Metro. I wrote a piece that started with my encounter in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with Marie-Claire, age 6, whose plastic ball had landed on my head. We got to talking; she told me how she played with her older brother, and I asked if he was nice to her.

“No, Monsieur,” she responded. “He bullies me all the time. He pushed me over, and calls me a sissy. He pulls my hair, and he breaks my toys. He never lets me win any games. He says that one day he’ll throw me into the pond, head first.”

What do you think of that?

“Bof,” Marie-Claire said. “C’est normal.”

Trump, of course, is not a normal president. He called Kim a “madman”; he should know. So I am happy that the European leader with whom Trump seems to have the strongest rapport is Macron, who can bring his country’s wisdom on “the human basics” to bear on Trump’s wild leanings. French antennae for the normal are also useful in detection of the abnormal.

Once upon a time I took a cab from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport and got stuck in traffic. It was a gorgeous morning, clear sky, spring in the air. I remarked on the beauty of the day to the driver. He turned to me and said:

“Bof, ça ne va pas durer, Monsieur,” – yeah, it won’t last, Sir. Nor will Trump. Il ne fera rien.

Nytimes

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