Macron, who at 40 could be Trump’s son, has honed a grandiose theater of the center, thereby giving centrist politics new vigor at a time of extremist temptation. He’s tough on immigration because he knows his survival depends on it. Trump’s is the theater of the zigzagging bully, nonstop noise often drowning meaning. For both men, movement and action are essential.
Gaullist pomp, shunned by Macron’s predecessor, is back. If that’s what it takes to defeat the racist National Front, bring it on. Macron celebrated his victory last year with an address to the French people at the Louvre, greeted Putin at Versailles, and returned to the Sun King’s Palace this year for a “Choose France” summit of global C.E.O.s to trumpet some $3 billion in foreign investment.
“It’s not ‘Make France Great Again,’ — except that it is, sort of,” a French friend observed.
Macron’s Bastille Day celebration — complete with guards on horseback, troops, tanks and fighter jets — so impressed his special guest, Trump, that the president now wants his own version “with a heavy air component” (but sans tanks) on Veterans Day.
Ridiculous? I think this friendship is so important I’m prepared to swallow hard.
Or rather, it’s potentially so important. We have yet to see what Macron can leverage from this relationship. We don’t know if it’s a nice thing or a beneficial thing. It did not stop Trump leaving the climate accord or recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The jury is still out.
Trump did exempt the European Union from steel and aluminum tariffs, an issue on which the French had pressed hard. “If we are viewed like China, that would be a big problem,” one senior official told me before Trump’s decision.
Next up: Iran. If Macron cannot avert the worst on Iran — a decision by Trump on May 12 to torpedo the nuclear deal by no longer waiving sanctions — then all bets are off. The accord, which reversed the program that had made Iran a threshold nuclear power, is working. The French are determined to preserve it.
If it collapses, the Shia-Sunni Middle Eastern confrontation will worsen, Iran may race for a bomb, and Saudi Arabia will not be far behind. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty could fray to the point of meaninglessness.
The signs are not good. Mike Pompeo, nominated by Trump as the next secretary of state, is an Iran hawk. John Bolton, the new national security adviser who will replace Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, wants to abrogate the nuclear deal and bring down the Iranian regime — and that’s just for starters. Devastation looms. Macron’s — and Europe’s — challenge in blocking Iran folly has just grown tougher.
As Trump’s behavior becomes more erratic, a trend the Russia investigation will only accentuate in the coming months, the Macron friendship is some insurance against the worst. Unlike Trump, the French president knows what he wants and is capable of pursuing a coherent strategy.
He’s also a bulwark against all the destructiveness Trump has embraced: ethno-nationalist bigotry; the growing authoritarianism of Putin and Xi Jinping; the erosion of the rule of law; trade wars; the militarization of foreign policy; and the undercutting of the European Union.
Macron’s vision of restored greatness is consistent with French ideals. Trump’s involves the betrayal of America’s. There’s the difference. A lot hinges on this being a friendship that delivers.