On domestic issues, Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump are more alike than you think

The presidents see the world very differently. But how they see their own countries is another matter.

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Ah, Donald and Manu’s famous bromance. American and French presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron were all over the media this week, shaking hands, planting trees and touching a lot to demonstrate their “special relationship” in Washington (and, privately, disagreeing on the serious matters they met up to discuss).

Macron’s very obvious charm offensive on Trump, which he has cultivated since he threw the US president a grandiose military parade in Paris for Bastille Day, somewhat failed. The French president admitted in front of the US Congress that Trump would probably scrap the Iran deal anyway, a decision he also called “insane”.

Both political outsiders who rose to power without the full support of traditional parties, Trump and Macron, at first painted as natural opposites, have developed a strange if not entirely illogical relationship.

On most international policies, their stances couldn’t be any more different. Macron worked hard to convince Trump not to leave both the Iran deal and the Paris accord on climate change. He has voiced his disagreement when Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He generally admits that they see the world very differently. Trump “is rejecting multilateralism, free trade, and climate change”, Macron noted in his address.

Yet on domestic issues, they share more than meets the eye.

Immigration

Macron is often painted as a liberal hero and a globalist, but on immigration, he has done a massive U-turn since the days of his campaign last year, when he declared: “Those who are in danger must be welcomed.” Now, his stance sounds a lot more like Trump’s. His parliamentary majority just passed a controversial bill on immigration that greatly toughens asylum rules. The new law will allow for failed asylum seekers to be held up to 90 days before deportation, up from 45 under previous regulations (the government first wanted 135 days). Claimants will have less time to file an application or appeal a rejection.

Dividing their own parties

Macron’s immigration bill is dividing his own party, La République En Marche (LREM): 14 MPs abstained from voting and one MP has quit LREM over it. Trump’s politics, too, have split the US Republicans. Bonus points to Macron, though, for having managed to divide a party he launched himself only two years ago.

Democracy

Both leaders have shaken their countries’ politics to the core – and both, in different ways, have shown a relatively loose interest in democratic systems. Trump has blatantly declared that he admired Putin’s authoritative ways and “big plans for Russia” and recently praised Chinese president Xi Jinping’s dictatorial decision to become president for life, saying: “Maybe we’ll give it a shot someday.” In a more insidious manner, Macron’s LREM party – originally named En Marche, matching his own initials – started as a fan group, with himself as figurehead. For months after it was created, En Marche had no political programme other than getting Macron elected. The party has struggled to distance itself from Macron’s leadership: the head of the LREM parliamentary majority was hand-picked by Macron as the only official candidate. In November, 100 LREM members quit to denounce the lack of democracy within the party.

The media

Trump regularly denounces the mainstream media as “fake news” and famously relies on Fox and Friends for his information. Although Macron has never tweeted, Trump-style, about “the failing Le Monde” or “fake news France Info”, his relationship with the media is complicated, too. He’s kicked the press out of the Elysée, his government regularly threatens to sue journalists about revelations they’ve printed, and the president himself enjoys deferential interviews a lot more than frontal ones.

Islam

The Onion greeted Macron’s visit to the US with the headline ‘Emmanuel Macron Amused By Little Differences In French, American Islamophobia’. It was a joke – but it has foundations. Macron has said that he wants to “reform French Islam” and “set down markers on the entire way in which Islam is organised in France”. His proposition was met with scepticism – the concept of laïcité, or secularism, is supposed to separate state and church – and many in Muslim communities were unhappy about it. New anti-terrorism laws passed under Macron also allow for the closure of “places of worship in which are disseminated the writings, ideas or theories that provoke violence, hatred and discrimination” – which are feared to lead to discrimination against French Muslims. So while Macron is, quite obviously, less extreme than Trump and his Muslim ban, his policies on Islam aren’t ideal, either.

Favouring the rich

The French have coined a nickname for Macron that, unlike Jupiter or Napoléon, he doesn’t particularly enjoy: le président des riches (“president for the rich”). Even former president Hollande recently joined in, saying: “He is not president for the rich, he’s president for the very rich.” That’s because he has cut taxes for the highest earners, reformed labour laws to ease rules for employers – and regularly addresses workers and the poor like they are below him. Remind you of anyone?

Slogans and catchphrases

Trump had “Make America Great Again”. Macron shamelessly copied it, turning the slogan into the pro-climate (and dig at Trump) “Make Our Planet Great Again”. They also share a tendency to go a bit overboard in meetings – Macron’s campaign roar, “C’est notre projet!”, doesn’t shy from Trump’s most populist rally cries. And the articulate Macron sometimes allows himself a little bit of swearing, like when he told students at the George Washington University: “Don’t follow the rules, that’s bullshit!” Back home, at the same time, students, activists and striking rail workers were being raided by the police for doing just that. The hypocrite-in-chief Trump would be proud. 

Pauline Bock writes about France, the Macron presidency, Brexit and EU citizens in the UK. She also happens to be French.