Any man who has ever betrayed or left a woman secretly dreads her judgment and hopes she'll never go public with what she knows about him. French President Francois Hollande is now living that nightmare.
Valerie Trierweiler, who was Hollande's companion when he became president, has written a book, "Thank You For This Moment," in which the politician is described as a lying, cheating hypocrite. The former first lady picked an inconvenient moment to be frank about her failed relationship: Hollande has just kicked out prominent leftists from his government to pursue a more conservative, pro-business policy, a risky move for a leader of the Socialist Party.
In extracts from the book leaked to the French media, Trierweiler does not try to hide her jealousy. She describes her anger at Hollande when he supported his former partner, Segolene Royal, in a parliamentary campaign after promising not to do so. She writes that Hollande swore "on my son's head" that rumors of his affair with actress Julie Gayet were not true. Then the tabloid magazine Closer published photos of Hollande riding pillion on a scooter to see Gayet. Trierweiler recalled:
I rush to the bathroom. I grab a small plastic bag of sleeping pills. Francois follows me. He tries to snatch the bag from me. I run to the bedroom. He seizes on the bag, and it tears. The pills scatter on the bed and the floor. I try to pick them up. I take all of them that I can reach. I want to sleep. I don't want to live through the hours that are about to come. I feel the storm that is about to kill me and I do not have the strength to resist. I want to escape. I pass out.
A few days later, Hollande announced that Trierweiler was no longer part of his life. "Eighteen icy words," she writes.
Although the French are largely tolerant of politicians' private escapades, Hollande is not likely to get much sympathy. He is already the least popular of all modern French leaders, with approval ratings hovering between the high teens and low 20s. The former first lady makes sure to portray Hollande as hypocritical about his politics, not just his personal affairs:
He presents himself as a man who does not like the rich. In fact, the president doesn't like the poor. He, the leftist, calls them "the toothless" in private, and he's proud of his sense of humor.
An angry ex-partner might not be a reliable source, but I find it hard to feel for Hollande. It has nothing to do with issues of morality: In most European cultures, unlike in America, politicians are not expected to be paragons of virtue in their personal lives. In Germany, an affair like the one Hollande conducted with Gayet could have gone unreported because of the privacy protections afforded to politicians. What is distasteful in the French president's case is the easy insincerity and the tactical mendacity. One has to wonder if that is his mode of operation in affairs of state, too.
Perhaps this is my authoritarian Russian upbringing talking, but If Hollande cannot dissuade his partner from taking a handful of pills, how can he be expected to run a nation in crisis, faced with a real threat of an extreme right-wing resurgence? If he is not convincing even to the ones close to him, how can the French respect him?
Trierweiler's book is a low blow to a man already coping badly with one of the most difficult jobs in the world. The former first lady has dealt it knowingly, feeling Hollande deserves it. France is likely to think so, too.
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