A nation’s official residence might not perfectly reflect its character, but there is a relationship. As the world started going on lockdown this spring, the White House, which was built partially by slaves, began breaking ground on Melania Trump’s new tennis pavilion. Across the Atlantic in France, at the Élysée Palace, originally built as an aristocratic party pad, a socially distant Brigitte Macron now runs the Hospitals of Paris–Hospitals of France Foundation, where she organizes food delivery and accepts donations on behalf of the hospitals and retirement homes whose budgets her husband’s government is trying to hobble. Nobody’s perfect.
When our politics go spectacularly awry, it’s always fun to check in on the French. Our democratic dark mirror is a swinging, Latin-Catholic what-if reminder that the revolutionary ideals of the Enlightenment took many forms. They have a different word for everything over there, and different political instincts too.