Rethinking Europe, Rethinking America

Trump in Paris: Bienvenue, Monsieur le Président!

A message to the American President as he heads to France.

Credit: Gage Skidmore www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • When news reached the public that Macron was inviting Trump to join him in Paris, it raised quite a few eyebrows.
  • Trump’s trip to Paris is an opportunity to learn about the French Republic’s motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.
  • The Justices of the US Supreme Court replaced “one man one vote” with “one dollar one vote.”
  • MEGA! Make Europe Great Again? Make Earth Great Again? Both!

First let’s be honest: When news reached the public that President Macron was inviting you to join him in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day, it raised quite a few eyebrows.

Some remarked it was about as appropriate as inviting the Pope to the gay parade, although one could argue that Pope Francis has shown charitable dispositions to his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Others said that it was like inviting your role model Vladimir Putin to the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that he still thinks was a tragedy for the Soviet Union, excuse me, for Russia.

These are but petty criticisms coming from small-minded people. Let us, on the contrary, admire the tactical genius of President Macron, who in one gesture has atoned for the two egregious mistakes he committed which threatened to keep him in the doghouse for years to come.

Being publicly endorsed by your predecessor, whose name we will tactfully refrain from mentioning, while you not so subtly supported Marine Le Pen; and taking a selfie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who so disastrously succeeded you on the Apprentice show. Serious blunders indeed.

Water under the bridge

All can be forgotten now: you will have a chance to enjoy a military parade, one of your favorite forms of entertainment that you mentioned you would like to bring back to Washington. A military parade also means there is no risk of noisy demonstrations, as recently took place in Hamburg.

All Parisians leave town for the long weekend anyway. Score one for President Macron! Plus he has the advantage of flattering the King himself, when poor Angela can only court Princess Ivanka.

Speaking of kings, the 14th of July is a wonderful opportunity to learn a bit about the French Revolution, directly from the country itself as opposed to from books (We know: “Too long. Boring”).

First, it all started with walls, those of the Bastille – hence Bastille Day – a jailhouse in the middle of the city that kept but a few prisoners.

The most famous one, the Marquis de Sade, ardent propagandist of democracy in his books where he mixes sermons to the populace with descriptions of various sexual perversities, had left a few days before. But remember: walls are powerful symbols, and generally don’t end well.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Now to the crux of the matter: it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about the motto of the French Republic, which indeed goes back to the days of the Revolution, even if the formal adoption dates from later in the 19th century:
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

Liberté: Freedom. That starts with freedom of expression, especially freedom of the press, a strong revendication of 18th century writers and philosophers, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarchais, forerunners of the Revolution. They would all argue today for freedom of the media and have little patience for “fake news” discourses or tweets.

Égalité: Equality before the law for sure. That translates into the “one man one vote” principle which used to be the rule in your country until the Justices of the Supreme Court decided to replace it with the new “one dollar one vote” law of the land.

Also social and economic equality, which Alexis de Tocqueville observed in America and reported in his marvellous (but very long, very boring) book entitled Democracy in America.

Poor Alexis would be in for a surprise today. The country has reached summits of inequality (the highest GINI coefficient among OECD countries), even before your health and tax reforms increase it. And social mobility is nonexistent – your zip code is your destiny.

Fraternité: Fraternity – among citizens, of course, hence the abolition of slavery during the French Revolution. Although some of your supporters entertain nostalgia for it, judging from various demonstrations against the removal of statues of Confederate generals.

Not to mention the near impunity for the killing of black people by the police, which some argue is in the tradition of the lynching of the olden days, a way to remind people of their place.

But also fraternity among people of the world, the fraternity symbolized by Miss Liberty who today mournfully wonders what the hell she is doing standing in New York harbor.

Make Europe Great Again!

This Bastille Day will also celebrate the centenary of the arrival of American troops on French shores during the First World War, which was the beginning of the American century. An opportunity to remember that engagement, not withdrawal, made America great.

Speaking of slogans – you will learn about Emmanuel Macron’s motto. MEGA! Make Europe Great Again? Make Earth Great Again? Both!

And let us finish on an amusing note: on this Bastille Day, you will be sitting on Place de la Concorde, a few feet away from the very spot where Louis XVI’s head rolled before being shown to the crowd.

Not that he was such a bad man. Wrong time. Coincidence: his wife came from the Austrian Empire too!

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About Jean-Francois Boittin

Jean-Francois Boittin is a former French diplomat and Treasury official.

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