Au revoir, Trump and D.C.

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - Mau­reen Dowd writes for The New York Times. BY MAU­REEN DOWD

Wash­ing­ton will miss Gérard Araud, but Gérard Araud will not miss Wash­ing­ton.

The cap­i­tal has toomany squir­rels, he says, not to men­tion a squir­relly pres­i­dent.

In his exit in­ter­views, the de­part­ing French am­bas­sador blithely blasted Don­ald Trump as a whim­si­cal, un­pre­dictable, un­in­formed Sun King. He also blasted politi­cians and the me­dia for hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing about Trump.

“You have a city that feels fright­ened and per­son­ally at­tacked by Trump,” he told me. “At ev­ery din­ner, you have anec­dotes about Don­ald Trump. And you leave Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and you can spend two days in Seat­tle and Chicago and no­body says the word ‘Trump.’”

I had sev­eral long talks with the charm­ing and brac­ingly blunt Araud as he packed his be­long­ings, including his cher­ished Tintin col­lec­tion. At 66, he is start­ing fresh in Man­hat­tan. He’s writ­ing amem­oir and may be join­ing At­tias, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm.

The diplo­mat, whose ca­reer spanned Rea­gan to Trump, played de Toc­queville for me, an­a­lyz­ing our Trump hys­te­ria: “I’m us­ing the Chi­nese say­ing, ‘When the fin­ger is show­ing the moon, the fool is look­ing at the fin­ger and the wise man at the moon.’ In a sense, Trump is the fin­ger. I do think Wash­ing­ton, D.C., is much too ob­sessed by the fin­ger and should look at the cri­sis” re­vealed by the 2016 elec­tion.

He said that he pointed out to Democrats in the whiny wake of that elec­tion that their own sta­tis­tics should have shown them that many Amer­i­cans felt eco­nom­i­cally shaky.

“I do think the ge­nius — and I’m us­ing the word ge­nius — of Don­ald Trump is to have felt the cri­sis,” he said.

Araud noted that Repub­li­cans are now “Trumpi­fied.”

“You had a Repub­li­can Party that was re­ally free trade, in­ter­ven­tion­ist in for­eign pol­icy, con­nected to bud­getary re­straint,” he said. “And sud­denly you have a Repub­li­can Party that is shift­ing to pro­tec­tion­ism, nationalism, de­fense of the iden­tity. Ex­actly the same thing is hap­pen­ing to con­ser­va­tive par­ties across the West­ern democ­ra­cies. So­cial democ­racy is in a coma in Europe, so I do think the elec­tions in 2020 will be to­tally fas­ci­nat­ing in Amer­ica be­cause the Demo­cratic Party will be obliged to an­swer the ques­tion, ‘What does it mean to be on the left in Amer­ica?’”

Like Democrats in 2016, Em­manuel Macron un­der­es­ti­mated the re­sent­ment bub­bling un­der the sur­face, he said: “He has been largely elected by the in­cluded against the ex­cluded. And he has not been able to widen his ap­peal be­yond ba­si­cally the peo­ple who feel com­fort­able in a global world.”

He sees sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Macron and Barack Obama. “I think they are hyper-ra­tio­nal and it can be seen as pa­tron­iz­ing by a lot of peo­ple,” he said. “In a sense, even, they de­spise pas­sions.” Smil­ing, he said both men are “too slim” and “too el­e­gant” to re­late to the man on the street.

I talked to Araud about the aw­ful sight of Notre Dame on fire. “Frankly, if you had asked me be­fore the event, what was Notre Dame for me, I wouldn’t have had a par­tic­u­lar an­swer,” he said. “It’s a nice cathe­dral but not the most beau­ti­ful cathe­dral in France. But af­ter five min­utes of see­ing the flames, I was cry­ing, sud­denly re­al­iz­ing that it could van­ish.”

He said he was “over­whelmed” by the piles of flow­ers at his em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton and the am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence.

Araud calls Trump “a big mouth,” but, as he once toldme about him­self, “I have a sort of big mouth, I guess.” He had to delete his tweet on elec­tion night, keen­ing, “A world is col­laps­ing be­fore our eyes. Ver­tigo.” And yet, as the first am­bas­sador in D.C. to make waves with Twit­ter di­plo­macy, he em­pathizes with Trump’s itchy Twit­ter fin­ger.

“The press, to be frank, is so anti-Trump that I do un­der­stand that the nat­u­ral re­ac­tion of Trump is to go over the head of the press,” he said.

It was dur­ing an in­ter­view with an Amer­i­can re­porter when he first ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton that Araud sud­denly outed him­self, em­bold­ened by his dis­gust at the back­lash to mar­riage equal­ity in France. Be­foreMayor Pete nor­mal­ized be­ing gay on the pres­i­den­tial trail, Araud nor­mal­ized the idea of a gay French am­bas­sador liv­ing openly with a part­ner.

“In my coun­try, it’s don’t ask, don’t tell,” he said. “In France, pri­vate life is pri­vate. So I was not hid­ing, but I did not speak about it.”

In an era when the pres­i­dent scorns par­ties and din­ners around town, Araud played the host, with his love, Pas­cal Blon­deau, a pho­tog­ra­pher, de­sign­ing the set. They had a mas­quer­ade ball and glam­orous Christ­mas par­ties fea­tur­ing a tree hang­ing up­side down one year and a tree festooned with plush po­lar bears and pearls an­other. Last Christ­mas, Blon­deau, dressed as an elfin lum­ber­jack, re­clined on a tree placed on its side.

StevenMnuchin and Louise Lin­ton came to par­ties, along with Wil­bur and Hi­lary Geary Ross and, in what may be their last joint ap­pear­ance, Kellyanne and Ge­orge Con­way. Araud even wooed im­mi­gra­tion tyrant Stephen Miller to the château with good French wine.

“I asked about the chaos of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, and his an­swer was in­ter­est­ing be­cause he said it is, in a sense, de­sir­able,” Araud said. “Be­cause the pres­i­dent is not a tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tive. So if you want to gov­ern an­other way in this city, you are obliged to break china.

“The deep state is real, not in the sense of plot­ting. But when Trump ar­rived here, ba­si­cally with­out a team, with­out ex­pe­ri­ence, peo­ple were con­vinced that they would ma­nip­u­late him. But no, you can’t ma­nip­u­late him.”

Araud also goes against the grain on Jared Kush­ner, call­ing him “a smart guy, re­ally.”

He is ex­cited to leave the city of provin­cial early-bird din­ners, “sad” baggy suits and aw­ful jeans. He and Blon­deau, tot­ing his plush tiger, gi­raffe and po­lar bears, have rented a place on East 73rd Street. It is a neigh­bor­hood, Araud says with a grin, “where I feel young.”

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