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Letters to Paris: 'From Friends to Frenemies'

The Croft Magazine // In the wake of President Trump's electoral defeat, Xander Brett reflects on President Macron's relationship with the outgoing POTUS.

By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French

The Croft Magazine // In the wake of President Trump's electoral defeat, Xander Brett reflects on President Macron's relationship with the outgoing POTUS.

15th November, 2020

Trump is over. Defeated, as the news of Joe Biden’s victory came through, the president was playing golf in Virginia. Pictures taken from afar showed him as he learned the news. He – like Biden – may have been democratically elected, but in these pictures, he had the air of a defeated dictator. Like many a dictator, he now refuses to give way quietly, desperately and shamefully clinging on as even his loyal friends and media abandon him. President Macron was one of many world leaders quick to congratulate the president-elect (though he was behind Boris Johnson in Biden’s call list). He joined Johnson and the other world leaders to share relief at the prospect of working with a predictable leader who recognises the desire to tackle climate change and the pandemic.

The White House | Epigram / Xander Brett

Macron’s treatment of Trump was typically French. While he was shunned by Merkel and May, Macron went on the charm offensive, using Gallic wit to fool and entice him. Macron was one of the first world leaders Trump met, and France was the first country in which he received a state welcome. In July 2017, two years before his state visit to the UK, Trump was invited to attend the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris. After dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower, for three hours the next morning he watched the pomp and pageantry of France’s national day, standing alongside President Macron at the Place de la Concorde, looking down the Champs-Elysées at troops, horses, tanks and a flypast. As the marching rolled passed, he was in heaven. He stood attentively, the centre of attention, waving and clapping as he left, inspired to recreate the parade in Washington DC. On his return, he ordered the Pentagon to put on a parade ‘like the one in France’ for 4th July next year. He invited Macron to the White House, where they kissed on the cheek and invited the press to the Oval Office. It was here the now infamous scene of Trump brushing dandruff from Macron’s collar took place. “We have to make him perfect!” he laughed to reporters.

A flypast | Epigram / Xander Brett

With his invitation reciprocated, Macron could make the switch. He denounced Trump for 'turning his back on us', saying his leadership of NATO was 'brain dead'. Already criticising Europe for not contributing enough, Trump denounced Macron’s comments as 'very, very nasty'. He reeled off a string of insults, saying 'France is not doing well economically', and that they have had 'such difficulty' with the Gilets Jaunes to create a 'very tough year'. 'You just can’t go around making statements like that,' he complained. 'It’s very disrespectful. I’m looking at Macron and I’m saying that he needs protection more than anybody'. He added that 'I do see France breaking off... I see him breaking off'. Later on, Macron hit back. In a joint press conference, he told Trump America had 'over-invested for years' and that he was 'sorry to say we don’t share the same definitions of terrorism', implying that Trump was putting money above the lives of his soldiers.

The White House | Epigram / Xander Brett

Macron was clever. While other world leaders denounced him, Macron put a long-term plan in place. He poked fun at Trump just enough for his allies to notice – asking the United States, when they pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, to 'make the Planet great again' – but not enough for Trump himself to notice. Helpfully, the French people were happy to play along. They sacrificed personal resentment for respect of the office, and the opportunities that came with good relations. The French helped Trump fall for the trap of a ceremonial visit, and they helped him reward Macron with the positive trade agreements that followed. Only after he got what he wanted did Macron stab Trump in the back. Unfortunately, however, so did Trump. With the Franco-US trade war as yet unfinished, Macron, like every European leader, will be pleased to see Trump go.

Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett

Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris'.