On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron gave what was basically a state of the union speech to a joint session of Congress. He’s the first foreign head of state to have the privilege during the Trump administration, and he spent the speech rebuking the policies and worldview of the man who gave him that privilege. The speech also made clear, if it wasn’t clear already, that the traipsing, flirting, and kissing that marked the first few days of Macron’s state visit was all a scam on a gullible, fatally flawed man.
It also showed that Trump likely hasn’t kissed anyone in years.
But at the podium, to the unusual sound of a three-minute bipartisan standing ovation—looking and sounding for all the world like the leader of the West—Macron broke up with Trump in public without even mentioning his name. (To be fair, Macron only got a warm reception from the GOP because he doesn't threaten them politically.)
Here's a point by point breakdown of Macronism (i.e., normal people in the West) versus Trumpism.
The main point of Macron's visit was to try to influence Trump's thinking on the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA), which Trump has repeatedly promised to tear up. Here's how that effort went, via CNBC headline:
Trump: Agreement with France on Iran nuclear deal could come 'fairly quickly'
That sentiment lasted roughly two hours. Later that afternoon:
What happened here was that Trump agreed with the last person he spoke to. It seems Macron had some initial success in convincing Trump that instead of pulling out of the JCPOA he should stay committed to it and try to create a new multilateral framework. Then Trump spoke to John Bolton, who reminded him that's the opposite of what he wants to do, so Trump immediately flipped back. And just so everyone was totally clear about what Trump really, truly, honestly believes with all his heart, he called the thing “insane.” Insane.
Here's what Macron had to say about the deal at his speech the next day: “We signed it, both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that.” And just so everyone was totally clear about what Macron thought about Trump's goldfish-level foreign policy flip-floppery, he pointedly said it “can work in the short term but it's very insane in the medium-to-long term.” Insane.
But Macron isn't gullible. He knows that after he leaves Trump will be mainlining Boltonism for a month straight, so he had no illusions he would totally change Trump's mind. Trump will likely scrap the deal on May 12, when he's due to brief Congress on Iran's compliance. The point of all his flirting and flattering was to advocate for a sensible, cooperative path forward with Iran that doesn't risk another major war in the Middle East. Also, in the vacuum created by Brexit and Germany's internal political strife, Macron wants to seize an opportunity to assert France as a global leader: “I think the U.S. will decide very tough sanctions. I want to be the honest broker of the situation.”
Macron is right. Short term we can feel good about punishing Iran, but unless we're truly willing to go to war to prevent Iran's almost inevitable nuclearization, then totally scrapping the nuclear deal, flawed as it may be, is against our long-term interests. Not only is it an ineffective strategy — it didn't stop North Korea — but if we're not willing to go to war over this, it's also just a naive bluff that will in the end reveal us as an ineffective, chickenshit leader. We'll see how far Trump goes on May 12.
Global warming is real. Macron called on Congress to “work together in order to make our planet great again and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our earth.” Make our planet great again. Macron used the same phrase last year to frame negotiations for the Paris climate accord, which yesterday he enjoined the U.S. to re-enter. He also advocated for a low-carbon economy. “There is no Planet B,” he said.
Worth noting that Macron couldn't convince Trump to stay in the Paris agreement a year ago. He's not giving up on us, though, and I'm grateful because what our current government is doing is truly idiotic.
Trump isn't afraid of a trade war. Or so he says. Sometimes. Vague as his thinking might be on that topic, he makes his “America First” agenda clear. He wants to tear up NAFTA, or so he says, and he's threatened punishing even our allies with tariffs on specific products such as aluminum because he believes we're getting hosed.
But global trade isn't as simple as cutting bilateral deals on a few goods with a few countries because, well, there are millions of goods and services traded worldwide between almost 200 sovereign nations. What's more, we created this system precisely to screw over other countries in our interest. And for the most part it's worked: Our economy is far and away the world's most powerful, and we run the game. It's an imperfect system, to put it mildly, but Macron said “commercial war is not the proper answer” because it would “destroy jobs and increase prices.” After the speech, GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy demurred: “He said in there that he believes in free and fair trade. That's exactly what the president asked for.”
Depends what you mean by free and fair, right.
Though Macron's jobs claim is debatable, if we slap massive tariffs on China and Mexico then prices of industrial materials and affordable consumer goods in the U.S. will indeed rise. Instead Macron advocated for multilateral resolutions through the World Trade Organization. “We wrote these rules,” he said. “We should follow them.”
Later in the day he told a younger audience in a speech at George Washington University that adhering strictly to the rules is, quote, “bullshit.” Then he tweeted it.
Macron also spent the day subtweeting Trump. Here are a few gems.
He also came straight at a Trump tweet:
But more seriously, there's this:
Which brings us to…
The above points are pieces held together by an encompassing worldview. We politely call this worldview “nationalism,” but that’s just an economic vehicle for good old fashioned racism. Macron made clear that Trump’s worldview is toxic on both a geopolitical and basic human level.
The French president, speaking from what’s supposed to be the pulpit of democratic compromise, stood up for the United States and the global institutions we created and until a year ago championed. It’s the most important point he made, though from our conceited seat at the center of everything it’s often lost on us: “The illusion of nationalism.” The Trump administration wants to dismantle the international systems we created — a world we created in our own image and rigged to our advantage — and either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that whatever replaces it won’t be nearly as kind to us. Here’s what he said, my notes in bold.
Other powers with the strongest strategy and ambition [China] will then fill the void we would leave empty. Other powers [China] will not hesitate once again to advocate their own model [vulture communism that strips individual liberties] to shape the 21st century world order. Personally, if you ask me, I do not share the fascination for new strong powers [China], the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism.
He’s talking about China.
Look, it’s a big world, and combined it’s much more powerful than the United States. We’re irreversibly connected, and we have to work within that framework. If we don’t, someone else (China) will recreate this system in their own image. If you think we’re getting hosed now, follow Trump’s plan and wait a few years. We do have the power to disconnect from the world, but we can’t disconnect other parts of the world from each other. We’ll get overwhelmed and eventually pay the price.
And this more than anything defines Trumpism: We’d rather burn everything down than share it. As Shel Silverstein put it, “If I die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my toys to break so none of the other kids can use ‘em. Amen.”
James Comey calls Trump a “forest fire.” It’s pretty apt. The forest will grow back. You can cut all the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.