- French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked US President Donald Trump last month for putting the interests of US citizens above demonstrating moral values.
- Three weeks later, Paris was set ablaze by thousands of working-class protesters who objected to Macron promoting an environmentally friendly fuel tax.
- Macron is about half as popular in France as Trump is in the US. Macron has set himself up as the enemy of nationalist leaders across Europe, but they’re more popular than him.
- The Trump administration on Tuesday called for European countries to ditch the leadership of the United Nations and the European Union and instead to join the US in putting the interests of their own citizens first.
- As Macron backpedals on his high-minded fuel tax without appeasing the protesters, it looks as if Trump is having the last laugh.
French President Emmanuel Macron stood at the Arc de Triomphe last month and rebuked President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
It was a move that, by all accounts, infuriated Trump.
Trump went home from Paris being roundly mocked for the wide perception that he had let rainfall keep him from honoring fallen soldiers, and he fumed at Macron on Twitter.
But three weeks later protesters stormed the monument in central Paris in a massive, violent riot that saw it defaced with slogans calling for Macron’s resignation and leaving the statue of Marianne, the symbol of France’s revolution, with its face smashed in.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said on November 11. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying our interests first, who cares about the others, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values.”
His remarks were widely seen as a slap in the face to Trump. But they fell on deaf ears, even among his countrymen.
France’s lower and middle classes in the intervening weeks launched a massive mobilization that saw 36,000 marching in colors in the street.
The French who felt unseen, who felt Macron had not put their interests first, dawned high-visibility yellow vests to protest their president’s raising taxes on diesel fuel, a move designed to make the country’s economy more green.
While Macron may have sought to improve the lot of all French people by building a green economy that could attract morally sound investments from around the world, the tax increase immediately hurt the suburban and rural working class. In return, it provides only theoretical, roundabout path toward their long-term gain.
Macron’s high-minded rhetoric fell flat among these workers, and, after the destruction at the Arc de Triomphe, Macron made the first major reversal of his presidency and called off the tax increase, beaten by protests he initially dismissed.
But Macron’s U-turn wasn’t enough, and the Yellow Vests, as they’ve come to be known, have planned more protests for the coming weekend.
‘X country name first’
Any working theory of international relations understands that nations and actors put their own interests first.
Whereas Trump proudly trumpets “America First,” Macron essentially said he’s more interested in signaling his country’s moral values than advancing the interests of his citizenry.
Macron has positioned himself as the enemy of nationalist leaders rising around Europe, but leaders like Hungary’s anti-refugee Viktor Orban and Italy’s Matteo Salvini remain more popular than him in their respective countries.
While Trump has often clashed with European leaders over his unilateral decisions to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change or the Iran nuclear deal in the name of American interests, Europe’s unity and leadership has weakened terribly.
Macron’s chief ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also lost recent elections and has announced plans to step down when her term ends in 2021.
In a speech to Europe’s leadership in Brussels, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted multinational, multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the European Union as ineffective, failing to address the concerns of the people.
Pompeo called on “noble nations” around the world to put their interests first and “reform or eliminate” multinational bodies that don’t work as intended.
Pompeo pointed to China and Russia disregarding treaties and asserting their national wills as evidence that undemocratic countries were reaping the benefits of the liberal world order, while Europe failed to act.
On Twitter, Trump teased Macron as having only now come around to the realization that imposing costs on workers to pay for a grand vision of global change had proved untenable.
While champions of morality in politics may have celebrated Macron’s rebuke of Trump’s “America First” policies, which are often seen as inhumane and turning away from the US’s much-publicized values of compassion and openness, the massive mobilization of the Yellow Vests and the downfall of liberal leaders across Europe may give Trump the last laugh.