• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Macron Meets America

April 2018

America in the late 18th century hadn’t very many friends. Pitifully lonely though it may sound, it was the truth. Certainly, she found nothing congenial in the state by whom she was until just recently possessed—the empire of Great Britain. Indeed, America and England’s relationship had become, for quite obvious reasons, more than a little strained after what was, for the former, a war of revolution and what was, for the latter, the loss of thirteen profitable colonies.

This “falling out”, so to speak, wasn’t a change in our relationship status by which should’ve been surprised. It was rather a natural consequence after the humiliating Siege of Yorktown and the grudging Treaty of Paris (to which a delegation of relatively low-ranking British emissaries were sent, as if to show by their political inferiority the contempt in which they held the new state). No longer were the two countries on speaking terms as, less than a decade ago, they might’ve been.

The air between London and New York, Oxford and Philadelphia had turned rather cool at that moment and for some time thenceforth. More than cool, it was damp, heavy—thoroughly saturated with a froideur that wouldn’t finally dissipate until after the War of 1812. And except for a few lingering loyalists who were busy scampering in toward Canada—that last bastion of England on the continent—there was little sympathy nor friendliness to be found amongst the people looking across the Atlantic, and certainly none returning our gaze.

If not England, then, what about another European state? Alas, those disposed amicably toward the nascent nation of America were few. Germany doubtless was no friend. Of course, she wasn’t Germany back then, rather an amalgam of loosely affiliated provinces and territories over which the Holy Roman Empire presided. But she was the ancestral home of the Hanoverian King George III and as such, she had an interest in helping her regal son to victory. From northern and central Germany came the eponymous Hessians—patriotic mercenaries, really—who fought in some of the more decisive battles of the Revolution with the type of zeal that the Roman demographer Tacitus so vaunted and feared in his own day.

If not to England or Germany, then, to whom was America to turn if it was a friendly face upon which she yearned to look? If tired of the burdensome hostilities and tempestuous wars, toward which state would she be able to outstretch her arm in hopes of amity and peace?

France proved to be the receptive friend of which we were in need. It wasn’t an unconditional friendship, however; America had to earn Paris’s respect. She did so in an emphatic and doughty fashion when at Saratoga in 1777, the American commander Horatio Gates forced his British adversary Burgoyne to sue for peace. This was in many ways the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Had we lost Saratoga, we might today be sipping not coffee but tea and eliding our “R’s” with an affected rhotic lapse.

Still early in the contest (Benedict Arnold wasn’t yet the traitor that he’d become; he could still be seen donning Uncle Sam’s blue rather than King George’s crimson epaulet), the American victory at Saratoga convinced Louis XVI of France that America was a fertile and auspicious theater to which he could devote his resources, soldiers, and time. Spain followed suit, under Charles III, as did the Netherlands, of whom both were immensely powerful players in that competitive market of navies and of trade by the sea.

Yet we Americans remember not the Spanish, nor the Dutch, nor the other half-dozen European countries who opposed British trade restrictions and rattled sabers before and during the Revolutionary War. We remember above all others France. And while the passage of time might change our affinities and our friendships, France still owns the largest piece of the American heart. Presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron make this obvious every time they occasion themselves to meet.

The relationship they enjoy is remarkable. Theirs seems to be one of a natural geniality; a shared warmth that’s both unforced and real. Trump and Macron first met in the summer of last year, when the former visited the French capital during what was one of his earliest state visits abroad. There, in Paris, he and Macron quickly took to each other. They dined on foie gras above the Parisian skyline, watched the Bastille Day military parade, laughed convivially behind the scenes, and shook hands for an amount of time that could be measured only by the number of memes it provoked.

This had many observers scratching their heads. On the surface, the two statesmen have precious little in common: Macron, precocious in just the fortieth year of his life, is urbane, energetic, short of stature, lean, jovial, and inquisitive. He has a ready charisma and a charming smile that can—when he needs it to—cover a multitude of aims. His education is both broad and deep. He’s been known adroitly to move from quoting such men as Hegel and De Gaulle to Roosevelt and Racine. His fluency is his eloquence and he speaks it in multiple tongues. His outlook is inclusive. He sees in the world market of ideas and economies not zero-sum affairs, but opportunities for mutual gain. He sees efflorescence under the guidance of globalization and the cultivation of free trade.

President Trump, on the other, in the seventy-first year of his life, is doubtless more aged and battle-scarred than is Macron the upstart. I mean by that not hoary and infirm, but matured, hardened, and resilient to the vicissitudes of life. A bit more corpulent and significantly taller, Trump is the more physically, if not intellectually imposing of the two. Add to his physique his confidence, his combativeness, his toughness, his virility, and his pride and the two stand even further apart. Trump, for better or for worse, is as incurious as he is instinctive and insightful. He’s keenly personally aware of his image and uniquely perspicacious when looking at the confluence of politics, culture, and American life. Always dour and severe, his charisma is carefully guarded. It never finds itself deploying smoothly or naturally into situations that might embrace its arrival.

Yet for all of their differences, of which—as I’ve noted—there are many, Trump and Macron have thus far gotten along famously. So much so, that a recent New York Times writer christened their relationship with the pidginized sobriquet, “Le Bromance”. Undoubtedly cute though the nickname is, many, not least of all that New York Times writer, have been hoping that there’s something more to it. They’re hoping that Macron can convince, and if not convince, inveigle Trump into becoming more like him. They want the elder, cruder Trump to become like the younger, effete Macron. They want conservative to become liberal and American to become francophilic. They’re hoping that Macron’s rapport with Trump—the very asset that President Trump values above all else—will sublimate Trump’s urges and soften his rhetoric. They’re counting on Trump to bend to Macron’s ideological will.

But what precisely is Macron’s ideological will?

After spending his first day in Washington indulging tête-à-têtes with Trump, Macron went on to address a joint Congress where he fully spelled that out. In a speech that might’ve spilled just as easily from the lips of President Obama, Macron championed and defended his liberal weltanschauung.

He spoke respectfully of the “MeToo” movement, which had germinated in America and thence disseminated itself in France. He vaunted the concept of multilateralism—again, a distinctively American vision as it’s been imagined in the modern era. He denounced the insidious emergence of a new generation of Eurasian strongmen—the likes of Erdogan, Putin, Sisi, and Xi Jinping. Explicitly at odds with Trump’s professed infatuation with these men, Macron said that he doesn’t “share the fascination for new, strong powers” who’ve been consolidating their powers and manipulating their constitutions to serve their personal and political ends. He called nationalism an “illusion”, the very concept upon which Trump’s presidential campaign was built. Surely, unwillingness to believe on Macron’s part doesn’t make a thing necessarily illusory, or else Trump might not have won. He went on to say that we need less “extreme nationalism (a point on which most would agree, but whose term begs further description) and less “deregulation”, before going on to list the benefits of free and fair trade. A contradictory statement arose in that breath, but few seemed to mind. Less deregulation, of course, means more regulation—a concept from which any free-trader worth his salt would turn and run. Optimistically, though perhaps a bit naively, he assured himself that one day, the U.S. would return to the Paris Accord and remain faithful to the Iran Nuclear Deal.

At the end, it felt as if we’d witnessed before Congress a manifesto of the Obama years. On each point that Macron raised, Republicans sat with pouted lips while Democrats stood and cheered. It turned into a completely partisan affair, rather unexpectedly, one might add. Macron was supposed to be the disinterested Trump-whisperer—the man from the political left upon whom Democrats and Republicans could jointly rely. He was supposed to ameliorate Trump’s more invidious faults. On both points, he seems to have failed. By promulgating every Democratic talking point, he revealed himself not to be the oracle we’d hoped him to be. This doesn’t mean that America’s relationship with France is now dead just because our leaders’ visions aren’t in perfect alignment. Nor does it mean that the two presidents can’t still be friends. Above all, it shows that their relationship might be much more shallow and much less influential than many had hoped it would be. That said, in a world where friendships are sparse and comity is an increasing rarity, America will always be there for France, and France for her.

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