A day after showing off his unlikely bonhomie with President Donald Trump at the White House, Frances president outlined an internationalist vision before Congress that starkly contrasts with Trumps—and suggested that his famously touchy-feely kinship with the U.S. president is only skin deep.
In a speech that could have been delivered by former President Barack Obama or even Hillary Clinton, Emmanuel Macron implicitly rebuked Trump on a series of major issues, from nationalism to climate science to the international order.
“We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” Macron said, while barely mentioning the voluble presidents name. “But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but inflame the fears of our citizens.”
Speaking in English, the 40-year-old Macron hailed two of Obamas signature achievements — the Paris climate change agreement and the Iran nuclear deal — and urged the U.S. to rejoin the former and preserve the latter. He also urged against trade barriers and called for reinvigorated American leadership in what he called a “21st century world order.”
Shortly before Macrons speech, Trump tweeted that he would watch it on television, saying that Macron “will be GREAT.” If Trump did watch and took offense to any of the Frenchmans remarks, he has not said so publicly.
Macron is in the U.S. on a state visit, the first of Trumps tenure. During a day of meetings Tuesday, the pair repeatedly spoke of their mutual admiration and showed off their bond with hugs, handshakes and kisses—to the fascination of observers trying to square the personal goodwill with their starkly divergent worldviews. At one point, after removing an apparent piece of dandruff from Macrons shoulder, Trump called his French counterpart “perfect.”
Substantively, its not surprising that Macron would defend issues dear to Obama — particularly given that Obama openly sided with Macron during Frances 2017 presidential election. Trump, by contrast, seemed to back Macrons nationalist rival, Marine LePen.
Some even detected an air of partisanship in the House chamber, at least in the reaction to Macrons words.
“Democrats jumped to their feet, clapping for every applause line,” tweeted Chris Lu, who served as cabinet secretary in the Obama White House. “On climate change and Iran, Republicans sat on their hands, as if it were an Obama State of the Union address.”
Trump has bashed international organizations such as NATO and brandished an “America First” philosophy that many foreign leaders interpret as isolationism and protectionism. Macron argued that if America withdraws from the world stage “all the powers with the strongest strategy and ambition” would rush to fill the void. The reference appeared to be in part to China and Russia.
Acting out of “extreme nationalism,” Macron said, will only serve to weaken international institutions such as the United Nations and NATO and erode their “mandate and stabilizing influence” around the globe.
He also warned against incendiary political rhetoric, seeming to echo a frequent criticism of Trump. “You can play with fears and angers for a time, but they do not construct anything. Anger only freezes and weakens us,” Macron said.
And he lamented threat to democracy of “the ever-growing virus of fake news, which exposes our people to irrational fear and imaginary risks.”
Although Trump often uses the phrase “fake news” to denounce mainstream media organizations, Macron seems to be referring to intentionally misleading information disseminated on social media by malevolent or amoral actors, possibly including Russia.
Macron on Wednesday described the alliance between the U.S. and France as a “very special relationship.” That appeared to be a light slap against the “special relationship” characterization often applied to the alliance between America and Britain.
The French president noted the historic ties between France and the U.S., remarking on the portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution, hanging in the House chamber, and the presence in the House gallery of an American World War II veteran who fought at the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
Macron also warned against erecting barriers to international trade that could ignite a “commercial war,” the brunt of which he predicted would be borne by the middle class in the form of higher prices and job loss. He expressed worried about rising global economic inequality.
Trump has complained often about trade imbalances, chiefly with China but also with allies including Mexico, Canada and the European Union. Macron said the proper response is not tariffs, which Trump has imposed on some imports, but by working with the World Trade Organization.
“We wrote these rules,” he said. “We should follow them.”
Macron conceded that the Iran nuclear deal is flawed — but argued that it has kept a lid on Irans nuclear program and warned against abandoning it.
And he said he was sure that the U.S. would one day rejoin the landmark international climate-change agreement reached in Paris in 2015, a deal that Trump has abandoned.
“I believe in building a better future for our children, which requires offering them a planet that is still habitable in 25 years,” Macron said. “Because what is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet while sacrificing the future of our children?”
“I believe that against ignorance we have education. Against inequalities, development. Against cynicism, trust and good faith. Against fanaticism, culture. Against disease and epidemics, medicine. Against the threats on the planet, science,” he said. At one point, he stressed: “Let us face it: There is no Planet B.”
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.