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What to Expect When Trump Goes to Paris This Week

Macron and Trump in Hamburg, Germany, in July. (Photograph by John Macdougall/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

President Trump will visit Paris this week on the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron. By Thursday evening, the presidents  and their wives will be dining on lobster and caviar in the Alain Ducasse restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. On Friday, they’ll attend Bastille Day celebrations in the city.

Macron’s invitation was billed as an opportunity to celebrate 100 years since the United States entered World War I. But Trump can expect to stay on his toes–in the time since he’s taken office, Macron has shown that he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

There was the ironclad handshake the two exchanged at the NATO summit in Brussels, which Macron later said was not “innocent,” but rather a sign that he “would not make small concessions, even symbolic” to his counterpart. Then, following Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, Macron trolled him on Twitter by pledging to “make our planet great again” alongside former California Governor—and current Celebrity Apprentice host—Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The French President and his team regularly post messages in English on their social media accounts encouraging entrepreneurs, investors, and scientists to come to France, a subtle dig at the UK and US, which have rejected international agreements and pivoted toward more anti-trade, nationalist politics in the past year.

 

While Trump’s messaging style is shoot-from-the-hip and unpredictable, Macron’s is calculated and strategic. The French President has even said he wants En Marche!, his nascent political party, to “behave as a media outlet,” producing its own news and videos in-house. 

“Macron is a highly theatrical and symbolic person,” says Jeffrey Lightfoot, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He says Macron is looking to “elevate the role of France on the world stage,” after the country was overshadowed by the United States while Barack Obama was in the White House and Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, went down as one of the most unpopular presidents in the history of the Fifth Republic.

Unlike Hollande, Macron keeps a safe distance from the press and is very careful with his messaging, according to a French official based in Washington. Unsurprisingly, his relationship with Twitter is very different than Trump’s: “His tweets are checked and prepared for him, and he doesn’t tweet himself,” the official says.

This calculating, strategic side of Macron is what some of his biggest supporters admire about him. “Everything he does is very deliberate, very purposeful,” says Jeremy Lagalee, a French lawyer in DC who is active with an En Marche! chapter in Washington that claims about 200 members.

Lagalee thinks that Macron is smart to invite Trump to Paris, even if the US President is deeply unpopular in France. “He’s realized Trump has become a pariah of international relations,” says Lagalee. “There’s risk of a divide that we’ve not seen in recent history. What Macron’s trying to do is bridge that divide.”

Even though the Trumpian approach to foreign policy has changed the French-US relationship, Lightfoot acknowledges that there’s still reason for the two countries to work together. “France needs the United States, both in terms of strategic objectives, and as a trade and investment partner, and is hoping to influence and persuade Trump on trade and environmental issues,” he says.

Whether Trump will hold his own on Macron’s home turf remains to be seen. But Lagalee thinks that at the very least, he’ll be impressed by the military parade on Friday, in which both French and American troops will march. Trump did, after all, want something similar at his own inauguration in DC.

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Courtney Vinopal is a former Washingtonian editorial fellow. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and previously worked as a press attaché for the Embassy of France in Washington, where she ran the institution’s social media accounts and newsletters. She lives in Woodley Park.