President Trump was in Paris Thursday kicking off an official visit with President Emmanuel Macron to celebrate Bastille Day, often thought of as France’s independence day.
The newly elected presidents are far apart on the political spectrum. Yet the two leaders draw comparisons from political observers who note both Macron and Trump shook up the political establishments in their countries, and both have promised wide-ranging reforms.
Now all eyes are on their relationship and the future of Franco-U.S. relations.
Jonathan Laurence joined A Martinez to discuss the meeting and its significance. He’s a professor of political science at Boston College and senior fellow at The Brookings Institution who specializes in European politics.
Set the scene for us. What’s the Bastille Day celebration usually like in Paris?
It’s a national holiday, and has been since 1880. It’s the time for the French to showcase their military hardware.
Ever since the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, it’s been a way of showing French military independence from the United States. Tomorrow they’ll be celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. So there’s also a bit of symbolism there with the French encouraging the United States to stay out of isolation.
On to politics: Trump and Macron first met back in May ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels. How did their first meeting go?
It was tense. Macron had prepared for meeting Trump by practicing his handshake. (laughs) I know it sounds comical. But apparently this worked, in that it won him some respect from Trump, he held his own when they did the grip and grin. And so Trump I think has come around to Macron, who’s more than 30 years his junior.
Macron could be considered kind of an outsider, similar to Trump. He formed his own political party and like Trump he pulled off a surprise election win. Do they have any other similarities?
Not really. Macron was in finance, and in some sense you could say Trump has made use of the finance world for his own real estate dealings. But no.
Macron is the protégé of a number of esteemed French intellectuals, even the last president. It’s true he formed his own political party, but before that he worked quite contentedly within the reigning socialist party at the time.
Otherwise, it’s true they both beat the odds. They both took advantage of a divided field to be kind of the dark horse victor in each case.
There are plenty of places where they disagree on policy, though. What are some of the more important ones?
Macron is multilateral in his attitude and approach to pretty much everything. He’s for a strong European Union, he’s for a strong Franco-German relationship, and with his invitation to Trump he’s showing also that he’s going to continue to support a strong trans-Atlantic relationship.
Trump has taken an “America First” at least communications strategy. We’ll see whether in fact that is what he implements as his foreign policy. But I think this is a good sign that he accepted the invitation, because I think both men are pragmatists and they both like to surprise their doubters and critics.