As the sun set last Tuesday, my housemate and I prepared for the U.S. election by fully embracing our adopted French culture. We headed out to our local market — one of the few permitted reasons to leave the house during France’s second lockdown — to pick up the ingredients to make boeuf bourguignon.
Confinement and many dark hours ahead waiting for the first results created the perfect situation to make a dish that takes at least three hours. And a dish that lists a full bottle of wine as one of the main ingredients seemed fitting for the election mood.
After obtaining our boeuf from the butcher and more pearl onions than we will ever need, we stopped by Le Baron Rouge. This little wine cave is normally our favorite local bar. It’s always full of people after work, and their prices are unbeatable. Glasses of wine start at 1.50€, and even at that price they’re really good.
Although confinement may have shut down the bar, Le Baron Rouge is doing take away wine. They have this great system where they sell wine on tap from huge oak barrels. You bring back the same glass bottles every time, and they will give you whatever they consider the best red white, or rosé of the month. Vive la France.
Because Le Baron Rouge has a credit card minimum and we forgot cash, we were also advised to buy a portion of artisan cheese to reach the 15€ minimum. Once again, vive la France.
It can be quite fun to eat dinner at 11 p.m., drink a lot of wine on a Tuesday and make fun of the dramatic “breaking news” deliveries on American television networks. But then 1 a.m. rolled around, and we realized just how long it would be before we had any results.
I opted for a nap instead of another hour of cable news, awaking in a dazed haze around 3:30 a.m. to hear that Trump was set to win Florida. God, not again, I thought.
I was actually in Paris for the 2016 presidential election as well, studying abroad. There was no pandemic, and everyone was positive that Hillary would win. I even remember my French global economics professor showing us the now infamous FiveThirtyEight projections, telling us just to relax and go to bed. Wanting to celebrate, my friends and I joined a watch party at a nightclub hosted by the Democrats Abroad Youth Caucus. In 2016, the festive mood turned from jubilance to shock to disbelief to utter horror. By 4:30 a.m., almost everyone was crying.
This year, I was much more cautious. But I held onto a small bit of hope that all our mobilization, all the phone banking, all the voter registration initiatives, and the total chaos of the last four years would work in the Democrats’ favor.
But watching Florida go again was a crushing reality check. The polls were very wrong again, and I was not sure if the world would survive another four years of a Trump administration.
Even as Wednesday morning progressed, and Biden slowly but steadily gained momentum, I couldn’t relax. As an American, I feel heavy responsibility (and shame) when I try to explain to people in France how my country could go through four years of Trump’s administration and then have over 71 million people vote for him again. ICE is putting children in cages, the COVID-19 pandemic is running rampant, and gun violence and police brutality tear apart families.
And still, almost half of voters chose Trump. Yes, Biden is the President-elect, and we will finally have the first female vice president ever. I am so relieved and so happy, but it is not a moral victory.
If living abroad has taught me anything, it is that the United States still has an undue, relatively undeserved and disproportionate effect on the rest of the world. I truly wish that the results of this election did not matter for other countries, but they do. For the climate, for human rights and even economic policies this election mattered so much.
The amount of coverage that the French media devoted to this US election was unprecedented. I was blown away that every one of my friends — and even random strangers I saw while picking up takeaway coffee — closely tracked the election results for every state. Everyone in Paris seemed to understand that Pennsylvania would put Biden over the 270 needed to win the presidency (or that he could do it with Nevada and Georgia, but Georgia was on a razor-thin margin).
The world really was watching.
Seeing the celebrations in US cities and towns on Saturday did make me wish that I was in the US for that moment. Despite the rumors, the church bells in Paris did not ring out to celebrate Biden’s victory. They were for a wedding in Nanterre (purely coincidental). But I can assure you the vast majority of people breathed a collective sigh of relief.