French president Emmanuel Macron is very short. Like Napoleon. He is also very young. Like Napoleon. And Macron’s adoration for Napoleon is profound. He is the most king-like leader the French republic has ever had. So where better for Macron to take his guest of honour, Donald Trump, than the resting place of Napoleon: Les Invalides.
Together, the Macrons and the Trumps perused its halls, looking at war memorabilia. They were greeted by soldiers on horseback. They were chaperoned by a guard carrying an elaborate sword. At one point, the French president groped his wife playfully. Later the two presidents dined together in the interior of the Eiffel Tower.
This display of pomp, bordering on the ghoulish, was only the prelude. The purpose of Trump’s visit was to attend the ostentatious military parade to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the US entrance into World War One. The military parade is held on Bastille Day. The day has long been desecrated. Along with many other aspects of the revolution, the heroic storming of the Bastille is now invoked to justify and celebrate capitalist tyranny. In this case, imperialism.
This is especially hypocritical of Macron. In his modestly-titled book Macron on Macron he explains: “The French revolution dug a deep emotional abyss … this absence is the presence of a king, a king whom fundamentally, I don’t think the French people wanted dead”.
It is easy to see the common ground that Macron and Trump occupy. It is not just nostalgia for the shared military feats of their nations. It is their lust for power and distaste of democracy.
There has been much made of Macron the great centrist leader. His election was a relief for the neoliberal establishment whose grasp on power has been slipping everywhere. In contrast to the far right and far left, he is considered reasonable, stable, and loyal to the capitalist class. Some liberals even go so far as to classify him as a progressive.
His gushing treatment of Trump in Paris was disconcerting to his fan club. But they comforted themselves with the explanation that it was simply a pragmatic move and that the real Macron is the man who defends free trade and climate science against the boorish US president.
Of course, it was pragmatic. So too was his macho handshake standoff. Pragmatic theatrics.
Macron wants to continue France’s military, political and economic alliance with the biggest power. This is especially the case now, given Europe’s relationship with Britain is shaky and given there are cracks, which Macron wants to fill, in the alliance between the US and Germany – France’s main rival in Europe.
But it is also clear that Macron doesn’t have to grit his teeth and bear it when in the company of Trump. They are two wannabe kings riding high on their egos.