Emmanuel Macron’s make-believe bromance with Trump has finally backfired

Maybe now the French President can work on real alliances instead of PR “friendships”.

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“Just bad. It was terrible.”

These are the words a White House source used to describe to CNN the latest call between French President Emmanuel Macron and his world diplomacy BFF, US president Donald Trump.

Only a few weeks ago, the two presidents were parading around the White House, holding hands and touching a lot. It was the culmination of months of buddy love. Back in July 2017, Trump claimed: “The friendship between our two nations and ourselves is unbreakable.” In Paris, Macron treated him with a full-on military parade and a dinner atop the Eiffel Tower; in Washington, he brought him a “friendship tree” that they planted together.

So what happened to their world-famous bromance?

Macron doesn’t have many friends. Last April, he even claimed on French TV that he doesn’t have any. But there’s something he has loads of, and that is confidence. The French president has compared himself to Napoleon and the Roman god Jupiter, and has declared that France is “lacking a king” (which would be, you guessed it – himself). He has even claimed that his closest Elysée aide is the only person known to him who “has a better functioning brain” than himself. (Really, who wouldn’t want to be friends with that man?)

When came the time to “speak for Europe” and stand up to the populist, authoritarian Donald Trump, Macron’s saviour complex rushed to the rescue with an unexpected strategy: he befriended the guy.

Trump famously needs to be liked, and Macron’s efforts to woo him seemed to work for a time. Instead of being mocked, Trump felt included in international forums and even welcome in France, where other western European countries, like the UK, had sent strong anti-Trump messages. This strategy resulted in the US president calling his French counterpart “a great guy”, “smart” and “strong”, when Angela Merkel and Theresa May were at best acknowledged. (Could this also be because they are women? Who. Knows.)

But it soon became evident that Macron’s declarations of “friendship across the ages” that “nothing will ever separate” were carefully-staged PR coups. After each present or smile, came a symbolic gesture (that handshake), an attack (Macron criticising Trump’s presidency in front of the US Congress) or a phone call pleading the US president to reconsider one of his decisions.“Does Macron like Trump back?” American media asked.

Even Trump, after some time, couldn’t be fooled. In his grand friendship displays, Macron forgot that Trump’s constant need for attention and validation is only matched by his strong will to dominate any situation. The problem when you try to tame a dangerous beast is that if you fail, there’s a high chance you’ll get hurt.

Indeed, Macron’s friendship offensive started to backfire long ago. After the Frenchman’s boast about his strong handshake, Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris accords. The “friendship tree” disappeared from the White House’s lawn mere days after being planted. When Trump wiped away Macron’s dandruff, it reached the point of no return.

Despite telling the BBC “I’m always extremely direct and frank. Sometimes I manage to convince him, sometimes I fail”, Macron asked Trump to change his mind on the matters of the Paris accord, the move of the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Iran nuclear deal and the steel and aluminum tariffs – and managed to convince him precisely zero (0) times.

Like many of his campaign promises, Macron’s friendship with Trump was an illusion. Many French voters will be glad it’s gone. Now it is time for Macron to use his brilliantly functioning brain to come up with the best possible conscious unfriending solution. Then he can be “direct and frank” about it and speak out against the US president’s many faults. If anything, Trump will call that “bad” and “terrible” too.

As Angela Merkel just reached out to Macron with an offer on his Eurozone reform proposal, maybe the Frenchman can work on real alliances instead of make-believe “friendships”.

Pauline Bock is a New Statesman contributing writer based in Brussels. She writes about Brexit, the EU, France and the Macron presidency.