Party like it’s 1789: A Presidential Primer for Bastille Day

By Robert Zaretsky

LARB has learned from anonymous sources at the White House that a primer has been prepared for President Trump’s upcoming appearance at France’s Bastille Day parade. Here are a few of the document’s highlights.

  1. The Bastille. Think of it as les fake news. When the (huge) fortress fell, there were only seven prisoners inside, not one a political prisoner. Four were forgers and two were bonkers, including a white-bearded fellow by the name of Major Immensity. Amazing fact: the Marquis de Sade was released just a week before all of this, and his cell made those of our favorite autocrats look positively Motel 8. White sheets, gourmet meals, library, visits from his wife — can you believe he was married?! — the whole shebang. Think of it as Sade-o-Lageau. And Sade wasn’t alone: wealthy prisoners lived in palatial suites and ate like kings. (Note: Suggest this as a model to our friends in the private prison industry.) There was even a Bastille Brand: a fellow named Pallot turned the demolished fortress into a tourist attraction, where visitors were regaled with the reenactments of the event and offered — for a pretty price! — Bastille paperweights carved from the prison’s stones. (Note: Ask CIA if we can do that with a couple of black sites: it’s about time they started paying for themselves!)
  2. The Foreign Legion. They will be wearing leather aprons and long beards, shouldering axes and marching at a slower pace than the other soldiers, but they are not a millennial hipster version of the Seven Dwarfs. Amazing fact: none of them are French! Instead, they are from more than 100 countries; if they survive their five years in uniform, they become French citizens. (Note: Tell Sessions to do the same with upscale refugees, offering them citizenship at an overseas Trump resort if they survive five years in their failed and war-torn country of origin.)
  3. 14 July. Amazing fact: no one knows which 14 July is being celebrated! There’s the 1789 version, but there’s also the 1790 version. With the first, mobs breaking into the Bastille and beheading members of the previous administration; fine for a political rally in West Virginia, but not for a national holiday. With the second, the Federation Celebration: a choreographed event marking national unity, where the king and people swore loyalty to one another. Downside, they also swore to the principle that “All mortals are equal; it is not by birth but only virtue that they are distinguished/In every state the Law must be universal and mortals whosoever they be are equal before it.” Upside: Marie Antoinette could do with Barron what Marie Antoinette did with little Louis: hold him up to the cheers of the crowd.
  4. Transportation. Macron might invite you ride alongside him in the nifty set of presidential wheels used to review the troops. It isn’t the Queen’s gold-leafed carriage, but it isn’t a moped either. It’s like the President’s golf cart, only camouflaged and armored. Downside: Last time a French president used the vehicle, he drew whistles and catcalls from the crowd. Upside: Macron might let the President take the wheel.
  5. Tanks. Lots of them. The parade also has a cast of thousands: soldiers, legionnaires (see above) and even engineering students. They’re from an elite engineering school, Polytechnique, and they wear double-breasted uniforms and horned hats straight from Jack Sparrow’s locker. (Omarosa thinks the uniform should be assigned to all staffers. Including Bannon.) Being smart-ass students, they also tend to drop stuff to throw off the cadence of those behind them. But they carry a (really amazing) flag emblazoned with the words: Pour la patrie, pour les sciences, pour la gloire. Two out of three isn’t bad. (Note: Ask Mad Dog why we can’t have a massive military parade on July 4th. Not only would we’d be 10 days ahead of the French, but would also show those weak-kneed European allies, and whatshisname in Korea, a thing or two.)
  6. La Marseillaise. State tells us this became the national anthem more or less at the same time, around 1880, as the military parade down the Champs-Elysée became the national tradition. Here’s where it gets interesting: the display of military muscle was meant to tell the Germans, who had pulverized the French Army ten years earlier, that France Was Great Again. Here’s where it gets more interesting: La Marseillaise’s name comes from soldiers — from Marseilles, natch — who sang the song, first known as Battle Song of the Rhine, as they marched to the Rhine — natch, again — to fight the Germans! Here’s where it gets bigly interesting: these soldiers, who spoke something called Provençal, and not French, had no idea what they were singing. And so, they improvised lines like “March on, God’s arse/March on, God’s fart.” Upside: the President will love this bit. Downside: don’t tell the President the actual lyrics: “Tremble, tyrant and traitors, the shame of all good men/Tremble!”
  7. Public opinion. We have a report quoting a senior French diplomat, stating that DJT is “probably the most hated American president in history.” Tempting to dismiss this as anecdotal, but then again a poll reveals that 75% of the French don’t like him. Of course, this might also be fake news, though another poll shows that even Marine Le Pen supporters hate him. Still, it could be worse: in 2008, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy invited Hosni Mubarak and Bashar-el-Assad. In a word, the President’s presence is not unpresidented.

Leave a Reply