France and the United States have been politically linked since the Revolutionary War. The American and French Revolutions, while wildly different in ideology, were products of the same age, occurring within fifteen years of each other. In our respective revolutions, each of our countries cooperated, since we were ostensibly fighting for the same things: freedom and democracy. But our assumptions were deeply different. The American Revolution was about gaining the rights we should have had as subjects to England. The French Revolution was meant to topple the hierarchy and redistribute power according to the humanist philosophy of the day. As two inextricably linked leaders of Western democracy, our future relationship with France will help determine our trajectory as a nation. Will we continue to move in an isolationist direction, or choose to maintain and develop our ties to Europe?
July 14, 2017 marks the 228th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in the French Revolution. For the celebration, President Trump made his first official trip to France. This twenty-four-hour whirlwind trip to Paris will likely set the tone of US-French relations for the next four years. In the coming months we will see the fruits of this brief meeting. For now, we should understand what Macron values, so that we can see how our countries may interact.
In my previous piece, “What the French Election Means for Europe,” I wrote that Macron was hard to understand. He ran on a platform of unity and progress, but was intentionally vague about what that meant. In a February 2017 interview, he explained: “[Y]ou describe 200 measures that you will implement if you are elected. Nobody delivers. Why? Because you don’t know about the actual situation.” Macron avoided making specific promises.
His party’s website adds the detail that Macron’s campaign speeches did not. Emmanuel Macron created his party, En Marche, in April 2016 as a citizen movement. “We are more than 200,000 mobilized everywhere in France, from Lille to Bordeaux, from Paris to Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg, from la Sarthe to Vaucluse…Our movement is multi-faceted, rich with your diversity and unified around a common goal.”
When Macron created the party last year, he said, “This party will only be what we make it to be.” Macron wanted to create a party for those disillusioned with the “political dichotomy which has now become obsolete.”
What is perhaps most intriguing about France’s new political direction is that the party of the new president is so fluid in its ideology. Macron himself can be counted as more moderate and pragmatic in his approach than his very conservative opponent Marine Le Pen is. En Marche is founded upon an idea of self-determination. It is meant to be a refuge for those who no longer feel comfortable in traditional parties, and as an alternative to the existing dichotomous structure. Macron knew that the party would be more successful if he left it ideologically open.
The French political system can be broken into five categories: radical left, left, center, right, and extreme right. Le Pen, Macron’s main opponent in the elections, was of the extreme right. Macron himself is on the left, though not radically so. He is primarily practical in his approach, rather than staunchly ideological. Indeed he needs to be, having won the election in a time when many French citizens chose to vote for a far right candidate. (Le Pen received more than 10 million votes in a country of just over 60 million). Much like Trump, Macron took charge of a nation deeply divided, with its populace sliding toward the ends of the political spectrum.
Macron has been tasked with unifying a deeply dissatisfied people, and to show his determination, he gave them a document called My Contract with the Nation. In this contract, he lays out his priorities: improve education, protect workers, modernize the economy, strengthen national security, restore faith in democracy, and defend France’s interests. These are the sorts of political buzzwords that the whole country agrees with. Of course they want children who are better educated, workers who are more protected, and an economy that is more vibrant.
But in other places, Macron has laid out a more typically left version of his goals. In a video on the En Marche website, he said that there were three goals that would transverse his entire presidency. For him the three most important tasks of the president are to ensure equality between men and women while encouraging diversity, to make commerce and society more digital—he believes this changes the way we think and helps make society more productive—and to protect the environment.
Trump would agree with most of the points in Macron’s Contract with the Nation. However, the video on the En Marche website indicates that Trump and Macron may have a bumpy relationship. In February, Macron even offered American scientists and entrepreneurs who felt they were “fighting obscurantism” refuge in France. This sort of statement, clearly characterizing Trump’s administration as repressive and damaging to free enterprise and scientific progress, was Macron taking a decisive swing at Trump very early on in order to bolster his own case. American science and business, Macron claims, are being weighed down by government restriction (he’s right, but it didn’t start with Trump), but under his own leadership France will be a land of innovation.
Trump was a businessman, Macron a banker. I believe that their business-like pragmatism will force them to be reluctant allies. Enough common ground for them to gather on (improving national security, making business easier) means that progress will be made. However, Macron and Trump will never be partners; their overarching goals differ too widely to believe that our countries are going in the same direction. Macron and Trump will make progress, and there will be collaboration between our countries. But as long as the two remain in office, we will be acutely aware of how different our goals really are.