France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump skipped through Tuesday kissing, hugging, holding hands and rubbing each others’ shoulders.
On Wednesday, before a joint session of of Congress, the charismatic French leader turned around and repudiated the US President’s political philosophy and worldview.
The startling contrast between Macron palling around with Trump on a state visit and his velvet hammer speech — effectively defending the world order from “America First” nationalism — encapsulated his intricate US strategy.
Macron wants to bind the Trump administration into the existing Western international system, to convince it to dive back into multilateral efforts to shut down Iran’s nuclear program, to battle climate change and to safeguard globalization and free trade.
And he wants to position France as the main conduit between America and the European Union, a process helped by the deterioration in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political position and Britain’s pending withdrawal from the EU.
But Macron can’t achieve any of those goals without bringing along Trump himself, and effectively convincing the US leader to compromise on positions he feels with visceral and genuine intensity or at least to keep him from damaging a global system he often deplores.
That’s why he is developing an unusually touchy-feely relationship with Trump — which he compared to the kissing, hugging and hand-shaking that went on between US founding father Benjamin Franklin and the French philosopher Voltaire.
The contradiction between Macron’s own philosophy and his charm offensive with Trump was laced through a speech punctuated by multiple standing ovations and cheers.
Given the theatrics, Macron’s decision to address Congress in accented but fluent English and the policies he was advocating, the compelling political moment looked for all the world like a State of the Union address by a Democratic president.
To begin with, Macron paid tribute to common sacrifices and values shared between the United States and its oldest ally, through two world wars to today’s common struggles against terrorism at home and in places like Syria.
But then he took a barely concealed swipe at the ideological grounding of Trump’s populist nationalist philosophy, that is mirrored in anti-establishment political movements across Europe.
“We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” Macron said.
“But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse, but inflame the fears of our citizens.”