There hasn’t been a day since Donald Trump was elected in 2016 that I haven’t been thankful that I live in France, and not in the United States. Gun violence, white-supremacist militias, the shamelessly voiced opinions that all lives don’t matter—and that if you die from COVID-19, well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles—fill me with dread. So does climate-change denial while the West Coast, where I was born and raised, goes up in smoke.
France isn’t paradise. The country has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has thrown more than 1 million people into poverty. Cases are on the rise again, and the government is trying to find a balance between keeping the economy going and protecting lives. Our president, Emmanuel Macron, is a neoliberal technocrat tacking to the right, but no one in the French leadership has encouraged rebellion against local authorities trying to contain the pandemic, as has happened repeatedly in America. Macron, for all his faults, believes in science and that climate change is real. He is also capable of paying homage to fellow citizens who have been killed by the coronavirus.
The pandemic isn’t the only threat we face in France. The country is wrestling with the legacy of its colonial past; a new generation of French-born descendants of former colonized peoples is staking a claim to the country, which they demand include them without erasing their heritage. The trial of alleged accomplices in the January 2015 attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the recent attack with a meat cleaver in front of its old address are reminders that Islamist terrorism is still with us. Yet the risk of dying in a terrorist attack here pales in comparison with the risk of dying in a mass shooting in the United States. Last year, 417 mass shootings occurred in the U.S., and 15,381 people were killed by guns (including suicides, homicides, and accidents). The same year, out of a population of 67 million, 880 people were murdered in France. We don’t have armed militias patrolling our streets or our polling places. I feel far safer here.