Even by his own standards the intrusion by Donald Trump into France's private grief is in breathtakingly poor taste. Foreign statesmen, if that’s the right word in this context, usually keep their snouts out of other countries’ elections. At the best of times for the American President to make what is a thinly veiled endorsement of a neo-fascist would be a grave breach of the usual conventions. To do so now, insidiously and cynically, should not be forgotten by the people of France.
It is facile to see the assassination of French police officers as necessarily a political gift to Marine Le Pen, as Mr Trump appears to. Indeed, it is probable that the timing of the attack, undertaken at the same moment as the landmark TV appearance of all 11 candidates for the presidency, was considered by the terrorists themselves, with the aim of securing maximum propaganda value for Isis.
And yet all the evidence suggests that the French people are both more resolute in their defiance of terror and not so easily manipulated as some suppose. Even after other terror attacks – and France has endured more than most Western nations – there has been no significant and lasting swing to Marine Le Pen’s Front National. Her party, so far from being a recent phenomenon feeding on terror, has in fact been around for decades, with rising popularity as it exploits every possible grievance the French people may feel about joblessness, community cohesion and the impact of globalisation on traditional aspects of their way of life.
France is not a “frightened” nation, as some have lazily said, and nor is it bewildered. The great majority of the French people of all backgrounds understand what is going on, and why. They understand that the Islamists, whether directly ordered by Isis or not, seek to provoke a violent, vengeful reaction from the likes of Marine Le Pen, the better to foment a racial or religious conflict. That was more or less explicitly the agenda set by Osama Bin Laden before and after 9/11, and is plainly behind the high profile atrocities by Isis.
France remains a vibrant democracy, with republican progressive values made more precious in the context of the threats the people of France have to face up to. What happened on the Champs-Élysées will not end French democracy; just as French political life survived what happened at the Charlie Hebdo office, the massacre in Nice, the attack on the Bataclan, the murder of an 86-year-old priest in Normandy and all the other attacks in recent years. President Trump, like the terrorists, underestimates the spirit of the French people.