Alan Zendell, April 25, 2018
I don’t know where French President Emmanuel Macron stays when he’s in Washington but I imagine he wishes his suite included a soundproofed room. It’s easy to picture him returning from his day with President Trump, locking himself in, and screaming his throat raw. Whatever else we might say about the French president, he seemed to put up with Trump’s insufferable ego all day without batting an eye.
I forced myself to watch their joint press conference at the White House yesterday, expecting to cringe throughout, and the Donald did not disappoint. Macron spoke in quiet, eloquent accented English, polite and diplomatic in every way, but when Trump took the microphone we were treated to his classic, nearly inarticulate style. Seemingly unable to utter a complete sentence without distracting himself, virtually every thought included self-praise.
Trump took credit for a long list of things, most of which were in my opinion neither credit-worthy nor things that could actually be directly attributed to anything he did. And when he wasn’t boasting outrageously and asserting that he could fix all the world’s problems, he was attacking his predecessors, our Congress, and leaders of nations who are supposed to be our allies, who remarkably, have done everything wrong for decades.
After listening to all that with a straight face, Macron must have wished his soundproofed room came equipped with a hot shower. If most Americans haven’t been sufficiently embarrassed by the uncouth boor who occupies the White House, the contrast with Emmanuel Macron’s civil elegance put an exclamation point on it.
Unlike many American politicians who have become lapdogs to gain Trump’s favor, however, Macron is not shy about publicly disagreeing with him. But he does so in a cultured, impersonal way, careful never to say anything that might offend our Narcissist in Chief. The media has labeled their relationship a “bromance” and described Macron as the “Trump Whisperer.” Trump seems to love it, but imagine how that’s viewed in France. It’s crude, vulgar and offensive, and Macron is already paying a price for going along with it back home, where many view him as having an ego almost as large as Trump’s.
This morning, Macron addressed the U. S. Congress. In spite of Trump’s virulent rant against the “insane” Iran nuclear deal just yesterday, Macron asserted that it would be irresponsible to scuttle the present deal, as Trump has threatened to do next month, until there is a viable alternative in place. While Trump has slyly implied that no one but him (and possibly his new buddy Macron) knows what he will decide on May 12th, it’s difficult to imagine how he could orchestrate a sudden change in policy without prior consultation with all the signatories of the deal.
On climate change Macron did a delicate little dance. It’s clear to everyone that he thinks Trump is dead wrong on climate change and the environment. But instead of disagreeing in his speech to Congress he simply asserted his confidence that America would eventually return to the Paris agreement. His comment that after all, there is no Planet B, couldn’t have been better stated.
Finally, Macron addressed the danger of “fake news.” Listening to what he said with an uncritical ear might convince someone that he was agreeing with Trump. But in fact, he was saying the opposite, attacking the acceptance of alternate facts without corroboration as a serious threat to democracy and free elections. On close examination it couldn’t have been clearer that he has a serious disagreement with the way the Trump administration uses the term. France has a new law that the government plans to use to curb fake news, especially during elections.
In the deliberately vague terms administrations like to use when they answer questions about progress or changes in policy, we are left with the impression that Macron the Trump Whisperer might have moved Trump on some of the issues on which they disagreed. As Trump likes to say, “We’ll see what happens.” Back home, the French media think it’s all just play-acting, with each leader using the other to improve his own standing.
I’m hardly in a position to know what goes on in Trump’s head, but the whole thing reminds me of a scene from the 2003 film, Love Actually. Billy Bob Thornton, playing an arrogant American President, is visiting London for an introductory meeting with the new British Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant. The president says he has come to listen to the needs of the UK government and he will be happy to grant anything they ask for – as long as it’s something he wants to give them. Many in France view the three day visit of Macron to Washington in the same cynical light.