President Trump arrived in Paris this morning to a “reception extraordinaire” from newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron. A red carpet visit to Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides bookends a monumental Bastille Day military parade tomorrow down the Champs Elysees full of all of the pomp and “grandeur de France” the clever and competent President Macron can assemble. The parade will include U.S. military contingents to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of American Doughboys to France in World War I.
Given how unpopular President Trump is in France the invitation from the new French president was quite remarkable belying how Macron is gaming his future relationship with its increasingly erratic U.S. ally.
Mr. Trump was just in Europe last week for the G-20 where he held his second meeting with President Macron. He nevertheless accepted President Macron’s invitation to the annual Bastille Day ceremonies.
What is this all about? After all, President Macron did not need Mr. Trump to share the salute to his troops for his first stand on the Bastille Day podium at the Place De Concorde. It’s not like the two leaders have a lot in common — personally or politically, or that they have a budding trans-Atlantic “bromance” that Macron has already established with his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau. There has to be something Machiavellian going on..n’est pas? They are generations apart with little in common except, except, they may need each other in the weeks and months ahead.
Let’s start with several shared, albeit, superficial political similarities. Each leader – newly elected with parliamentary majorities – is determined to shake up their respective national political systems. Each was elected as outsiders to sweep aside the “old order” and respond to popular discontent with the ruling elite.
But Mr. Trump’s legislative agenda is stuck in the mud whereas Mr. Macron’s agenda is gaining noteworthy traction as it accelerates through the French National Assembly.
Why then, if both men enjoy significant legislative majorities in their legislatures does Mr. Macron have so much more wind in his legislative sails?
First, Mr. Trump doesn’t actually have a working Congressional Republican majority beholden to his agenda. The travails he confronts in Congress stem, in part, from fundamental disagreements between his national populism and a Republican Party buffeted by its own ideological splits. Trump inherited a political party that goes to great lengths to create the illusion of unity, but is divided at its core.
On the other hand, Mr. Macron single-handedly created from scratch an entirely new political movement (En Marche) which he rode to victory in the presidential election runoffs. After his personal triumph, Macron miraculously transformed En Marche into an actual political party – Republique en Marche! (LRM) — to compete a fortnight after his election for control of the National Assembly. At warp speed LRM was able to field across France a completely loyal cadre of novice parliamentary candidates. LRM swept away virtually every major opposition leader in the old political order. Macron, unlike Trump, can rule as well as reign.
Second, Macron defeated a xenophobic fascist Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party – a candidate that Trump not surprisingly supported since the two shared an aversion to immigration and international trade. Macron’s defeat of LePen was so compelling and so convincing that it established a firm popular foundation to enable Macron and LRM to touch the third rail of the French social order – its anachronistic labor laws — and take on powerful French labor unions. He has vowed to pass a labor law to devolve bargaining power over pay from unions to management, to merge the nation’s work councils, and cap redundancy awards for unfair dismissal — the bane of French prospective employers. The world will be watching whether Macron is going to be truly able to vanquish labor union bosses who can mobilize punishing street demonstrations and strikes. Will he be France’s “Iron Man” to Britain’s former “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, who took on the coal miner unions and won.
Mr. Macron’s legislative agenda is breathtakingly revolutionary. He wants to change the French constitution to require more direct representation with French voters, and to reduce the number of Deputies in the National Assembly. Macron is determined (like President Trump) to reduce public spending, particularly by the institutions of government.Bottom of Form
Across the pond, Mr. Trump’s legislative agenda has fallen off the rails.
Unlike Mr. Trump, Macron considers the institutions of government essential to improving education, social equality, and entrepreneurship. He has populated French ministries with a new cadre of, dynamic, yet somewhat inexperienced ministers, who are uber-loyal to Macron’s new social and economic reform agenda – after all, they enlisted in his movement from day one.
Third, unlike Trump who has evidenced little inclination to reach beyond his core Republican Party base, President Macron is determined to overthrow the old French political party order and reach deep into his adversaries’ political bases to forge a new, enduring political order. His goal: compel the old parties to evaporate.
Macron is already expending his considerable political capital to make irrelevant these paleo party structures to draw support from a whole new generation of French business and social activists and potential cadres. He is trying to abscond with the best and brightest of the old order to enlist them into the LRM. Consequently, his adversaries do not have the luxury of opposing Macron without keeping a very close eye on their exposed political flanks. They may wake up soon and realize their grass roots support was usurped by Macron. Whether he is able to sustain this political poaching will greatly depend on his ability to maintain the momentum from early legislative victories – since the fulfillment of his domestic agenda (and not management of Mr. Trump or the battle against ISIS) will largely determine his political future and that of the LRM..
In their joint press conference this afternoon both presidents steered their remarks away from real differences to common concerns, particularly the fight against ISIS and the cease-fire in Syria.
The bonhomie between the two leaders appeared genuine – which may augur well for improved trans-Atlantic cooperation on NATO, trade, and a more effective battle against ISIS.
Both leaders did not shy away from acknowledging their differences, particularly over Trump’s declaration to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. But like a good guest, Mr. Trump went to some length suggesting his decision on the Accord was not final.
Having just returned from Paris a few days ago, it is fair to say that the French public is greatly impressed with their new, young leader ― so far. He has managed to quickly display a confidence on the world stage and to comfortably seize the levers of French presidential power ― benefiting from a genuine political honeymoon from his public.
Restoring the lost power and glory of the French presidency is good for the home team and good for the United States. Perhaps President Macron will be able to establish a close personal relationship with his American counterpart sufficient to help steer President Trump closer to his internationalist agenda. There are very few world leaders President Trump has embraced. With all that Mr. Macron has on his domestic plate, the fact that he was willing to welcome President & Mrs. Trump on France’s National Day is testament to his shrewd acknowledgement that it is far better to lay as best a foundation as possible to serve as a potential bridge between the U.S. and the rest of Europe given Theresa May’s growing Brexit-induced unpopularity, and Mr. Trump’s gruff and awkward relationship with Germany’s Angela Merkel.
I could just hear Mr. Trump say privately: “Hey, this kid is no pushover...he actually has a lot of power and a lot of tanks and horses...and Versailles would make a great Trump Hotel.”