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15 November 2018

Emmanuel Macron got his moment of unity – but, with Donald Trump around, it was short-lived

“They [the French] were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

By Pauline Bock

Last weekend, the world was grave and dignified. Dozens of leaders gathered in Paris to walk, in silence, with French president Emmanuel Macron towards the Arc de Triomphe to mark the centennial of the WWI armistice. Then a new week started, so Donald Trump figured it was time to shout very loud nonsense at someone again, and in the spirit of lasting world peace and transatlantic friendship, he picked Emmanuel Macron.

On Tuesday, Trump, a champion in the sports of sounding super angry while not making any valid point, tweeted a rich tapestry of miscellaneous rants against Macron. They are worth publishing in full:

“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

“On Trade, France makes excellent wine, but so does the U.S. The problem is that France makes it very hard for the U.S. to sell its wines into France, and charges big Tariffs, whereas the U.S. makes it easy for French wines, and charges very small Tariffs. Not fair, must change!”

“The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%. He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!……..”

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Apart from the weird point on wine tariffs, a self-own in its purest form, Trump’s wrath at Macron was mostly directed at his multilateralist stance and his repeated calls for unity against the rise of nationalism in Europe and beyond. In Paris, Macron spoke of “old demons coming back” a century after Europe “almost killed itself”. He denounced nationalism as “a treason of patriotism” and said: “In claiming ‘our interests go first, the others’ can go to hell’, we erase what is most precious for a nation, what keeps it alive and glorifies it: its moral compass.”

It was this, alongside Macron’s professed hopes for a “true European army” to protect Europe against Russia, China and the US on 6 November, that allegedly pushed Trump over the edge.

The divorce between formers bros Trump and Macron has been finalised for some time now but even so, Trump’s words were brutal: the “French learning German in 1944” line was by far the most violent American declaration towards France in a long time.

An American president insulting his French colleague so publicly, just days after honouring the fallen of WWI – and on the third anniversary of the Paris attacks, too – served as a good reminder that in 2018, the world doesn’t stay grave and dignified for very long. A French government spokesman later said Trump should have shown common decency.

On 11 November, Macron said he hoped that the photo of the leaders reunited for the armistice commemoration would be “interpreted in the future as the symbol of durable peace between nations, and not like the photography of a last moment of unity before the world sinks into a new disorder”.

Yet if the Paris summit was our last moment of unity, it was a very shallow one – a true illustration of Macron’s beloved concept of “en même temps”, the art of saying one thing and doing the opposite.

Trump, like fellow nationalist leaders Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, did answer Macron’s invitation. But ideological divisions were hiding in plain sight. The US president snubbed half of the ceremony: he cancelled a commemorating trip to an American cemetery in Belleau, west of Paris, because of the rain, and then did not show up at the Paris peace forum, held alongside the WWI armistice events. Macron’s message of unity itself was a thin line to walk on: everyone knew who his address on nationalism was directed at.

A better photo to illustrate our time would be the one of Putin’s arrival on the Champs-Elysées: standing next to a stern-looking Macron and Angela Merkel, Trump’s grin as he spots his “very, very strong” Russian colleague is unmissable. Putin, never to miss an opportunity to bury Western solidarity, later proclaimed his support for Macron’s project of a “European army”, a move that must have infuriated Trump.

There is however a show of unity in Trump’s angry tweets: it lies in “Make France great again”. Sure, it’s a reference to Trump’s own rallying cry. But that’s also the slogan of Marion Maréchal, Marine Le Pen’s niece, who just opened a school for future far-right leaders and is being advised by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. She used the phrase at a US Republican conference last year.

Macron will hope his “moment of unity” on the Champs-Elysées can outweigh that other creeping unity between Trump, Le Pen, and other nationalists.