Today is Bastille Day, a national holiday that celebrates the end of absolute monarchy, the beginning of France as a republic and a reminder to France’s people of the virtues and traits that make them what they are.
Rather than tweet about the event, President Trump is celebrating this day by attending a military parade in Paris along with French President Emmanuel Marcon in what many consider to be a surprising moment in US-French relations. Paris has felt the barbs of Trump’s tweetstorm, claiming that, much like London, sections of the city were ‘radicalized’ and that it was a dangerous place to go. yet now, Paris is a ‘beautiful city’ and Trump seems to be enjoying himself along with his new best friend.
With anything to do with Trump, it’s worth asking what has changed to make a trip to Paris so appealing. Here are a few thoughts:
A diplomatic victory
After G-20, which saw much discussion over meeting Putin and a sense of isolation over America’s stance on climate change, Marcon’s invitation allows Trump to feel a sense of achievement at being an international leader. He can look busy and statesmanlike at the same time, a golden opportunity for a man who has struggled with being presidential.
It also gives him something to help distract the media from the recent scandal involving his son’s involvement with Russia during the election. Taking a break from the clouds over D.C and spending time in beautiful Paris will be a welcome diversion for Trump. Restoring historical and cultural ties with France, a country whose relationship with America has been rather frosty at times, is a bonus.
Clearing the air
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord was regarded with a sense of shock and despair by many nations who felt that Trump’s hasty action was an attempt to shore up his position at home and prove that he was doing something, anything at least.
Marcon’s invitation might be an attempt to soften the President’s attitudes and views, offering conversation and consensus. A sympathetic ear and a focus on unity rather than differences served Marcon well in the French elections. Perhaps he hopes that Trump will be equally receptive to such an approach, thereby giving Trump a chance to right his wrongs and admit his mistakes. A long shot perhaps, but Trump seems willing to listen which is progress in itself.
Long live the Revolution!
Bastille Day is France’s equal to Independence Day. Military parades, a national holiday, fireworks and a re-affirmation of what it means to be a citizen of a Republic. Viewed in that light, Marcon may be playing a subtle game based in symbolism and carefully chosen events, notwithstanding a military band playing Daft Punk.
There are two ways to interpret Trump’s presence. On the one side, Bastille Day reminds citizens to be ever vigilant and to stand up to tyranny against their rights. On the other side, Bastille Day is a celebration of the unity of the French people so perhaps Marcon is quietly offering an example to Trump, remaining him of his duty to his people.
Of course, much of it depends on whether Trump will be listening. He will be more focused on the splendid military parades and marking the centenary of America entering WWI. Still, whatever message emerges, Marcon and Trump will come away happy.
Marcon’s global vision
Making overtures to Donald Trump is a risky move, given his general unpopularity, but Marcon is a man with a new vision of France, a sense that France should take a greater part in world events. By courting the US President, Marcon is making his intention of a France looking outward quite clear. He has previously made comments, suggesting France could assist in negotiations with Syria, a subject that he and Trump will discuss along with terrorism and climate change.
France is also a major part of Europe, a member of the EU and NATO and a close ally of Germany which will appeal to many in the US administration who may hope to mend bridges with Angela Merkel after Trump.
It is clear that, much like Charles De Gaulle, Marcon feels that France should be a player on the world stage, much like its old rival Britain used to be.
Britain on the sidelines.
The special relationship between the US and the UK has hit a rocky path. Once a voice of reason, Britain’s divorce from the European Union has plunged the country into political, economic and social confusion, not unlike Trump’s surprise victory. Despite its position as a global player, Britain has damaged itself and its reputation as a pragmatic and confident country that will not be pushed around.
To paraphrase the Gospel of Matthew, Britain can’t remove America’s speck of dust while it has the plank of Brexit in its own eye.
Marcon shows Britain that a friendship with America is a two-way street and that one can be supportive without being submissive and that, sometimes the best way to gain respect from your superior is to defy them. Trump’s State visit to the UK has been the subject of much controversy and protest, a far cry from Marcon who is generally trusted by his people to air concerns with the most powerful man in the world.
So Trump gets a new best friend and a short holiday in Paris, Marcon get international respect for handling Trump with tact and careful consideration and France sidelines its oldest rival Britain on the world stage.
A good day for everyone…except the British.