By Silvia Martelli
A display of leadership solidarity marking a century since the end of World War I turned into a public exercise of isolation. Although during previous meetings with Emmanuel Macron, Donald Trump has managed to come across as friendly, on the celebration of the Armistice Day – held in Paris on November 11 – the US president looked apathetic all the way through.
As almost 70 world leaders walked down the Champs Élysées in a phalanx, The Donald opted for the comforts of his limousine. He then sat glumly throughout the ceremony, which Macron seized as an opportunity to reinforce his complete rejection of nationalism. The implicit references to some of the US president’s claims were multiple – there were no doubts about who Macron was referring to when stating that “patriotism is the antithesis of nationalism” and that “nationalism is inherently treasonous”.
As is becoming a recurrence on his foreign visits, Trump’s trip to Paris quickly turned into a series of quirks whose debates risk shadowing events of historic significance. As soon as he touched down on French territory, he posted a tweet that criticized his French host on the basis of a mangling in the US press of some of Macron’s claims, making it sound like he wanted a European army to fend off the US, China and Russia. It was not what Macron said, but Trump railed against him anyway: “very insulting,” he declared. It was a clear sign that the “America First” president was ready to chart his own course during the event. Later in the day, he cancelled a visit to a First World War cemetery in Belleau (where 2,000 US Marines were buried) due to “poor weather”. The excuse was instantly undermined by footage of Angela Merkel, Macron, Justin Trudeau and Trump’s own staff under the lightest of drizzles. In the meantime, the US president was enjoying his hotel bedroom.
The only time Trump brightened up was when Vladimir Putin (who was late for the ceremony) approached him – he then flashed a cheerful smile, in sharp contrast with the stiffening of Macron and Merkel as the leader greeted them too. The complicity between the US and Russian leaders was made even more evident by the gestures that followed the handshake: Putin gave Trump a ‘thumbs up’, shook Melania’s hand, then patted The Donald on the arm, who returned the gesture. The escalation seemed to mark the opening of the ‘other celebration’, a hymn to sovereignism – Putin and Trump, standing next to Macron and Merkel, seemed a team on their own. That was, however, nothing unexpected: French authorities had acted preventively, asking the two leaders not to arrange any meetings during the commemoration, fearing that it would overshadow the occasion. The two leaders were even kept apart at a working lunch in the Élysée Palace, as French officials switched their seats last minute. Regardless, Putin declared that he managed to have a “good talk” at the lunch.
Despite Macron and Merkel’s joint efforts to advocate for patriotism rather than nationalism (the difference between the two is subtle, yet substantial) and for international relations based upon willingness to cooperate, some hold a very different opinion of how things should be. Living examples of these are Trump and Putin, who keep interchanging almost a fatal attraction with multiple disagreements – perfectly fitting the logic of sovereignity.