Trump gets the last laugh on Macron with Paris burning after his rebuke of 'America first'

trump macronChristophe Petit Tesson/Pool via AP

  • French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked US President Donald Trump for putting the interests of US citizens above demonstrating moral values in November.
  • Three weeks later, Paris was set ablaze by thousands of working-class protestors who objected to Macron promoting an environmentally-friendly fuel tax.
  • Macron is about half as popular in France as Trump is in the US. Macron has set himself up as the enemy of nationalist leaders across Europe, but they're more popular than him.
  • The Trump administration called on Tuesday for Europe to ditch the leadership of the United Nations and the European Union and instead join the US in putting the interests of their own citizens first.
  • As Macron backpedals on his high-minded fuel tax without appeasing the protestors, it looks like Trump is having the last laugh.

French President Emmanuel Macron stood at the Arc de Triomphe last month and rebuked President Donald Trump's "America First" policy at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

It was a move that, by all accounts, infuriated Trump.

Trump went home from Paris being roundly mocked for the wide perception that he had let rainfall keep him from honoring fallen soldiers, and fumed at Macron on Twitter.

Read more: Trump mocks France's World War II record as relations with Macron deteriorate into confrontation

But three weeks later protestors stormed the Arc in central Paris in a massive, violent riot that saw the monument defaced with slogans calling for Macron's resignation and leaving the statue of Marianne, the symbol of France's revolution, with its face smashed in.

"Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying our interests first, who cares about the others, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: Its moral values," Macron said on November 11.

His remarks were widely seen as a slap in the face to Trump. But they fell on deaf ears, even among his own countrymen.

France's lower and middle classes in the intervening weeks launched a massive mobilization that saw 36,000 marching in colors in the street.

Read more: Who are the 'Yellow Vests' rioting in Paris, and what do they want from Macron?

The French who felt unseen, who felt Macron had not put their interests first, dawned high-visibility yellow vests to protest their president's raising taxes on diesel fuel, a move designed to make the country's economy more green.

While Macron may have sought to improve the lot of all French people by building a green economy that could attract morally sound investments from around the world, the tax increase immediately hurt the suburban and rural working class. In return, it provides only theoretical, roundabout path towards their long-term gain.

Macron's high-minded rhetoric fell flat among these workers, and, after the destruction at the Arc, Macron made the first major reversal of his presidency and called off the increase in tax, beaten by protests he had initially dismissed.

But Macron's U-turn wasn't enough, and the Yellow Vests, as they've come to be known, have planned more protests for the coming weekend.

"X country name first"

g7 leaders trump merkel summitIn this photo made available by the German Federal Government, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, speaks with U.S. President Donald Trump, seated at right, during the G7 Leaders Summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, on Saturday, June 9, 2018.German Federal Government/Jesco Denzel via Associated Press

Any working theory of international relations understands that nations and actors put their own interests first.

Whereas Trump proudly trumpets "America First," Macron essentially said he's more interested in signalling his country's moral values than advancing the interests of his citizenry.

Today Macron's approval rating stands around 23%, while Trump doubles that at about 46%.

Macron has positioned himself as the enemy of nationalist leaders rising around Europe, but leaders like Hungary's anti-refugee Viktor Orban and Italy's Matteo Salvini remain more popular than him in their respective countries.

While Trump has often clashed with European leaders over his unilateral decisions to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change or the Iran deal in the name of American interests, Europe's unity and leadership has weakened terribly.

Macron's chief ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also lost recent elections and will soon end her 13-year long reign.

In a speech to Europe's leadership in Brussels, Belgium, Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted multinational, multilateral institutions like the UN and the EU as ineffective, failing to address the concerns of the people.

Pompeo called on "noble nations" around the world to put their interests first and "reform or eliminate" multinational bodies that don't work as intended.

Pompeo pointed to China and Russia disregarding treaties and asserting their national wills as evidence that undemocratic countries were reaping the benefits of the liberal world order, while Europe failed to act.

Read more: Trump's mockery of Obama for his response to Crimea backfires with a new Ukraine crisis

On Twitter, Trump teased Macron as having only now come around to the realization that imposing costs on workers to pay a grand vision of global change ultimately proved untenable.

While champions of morality in politics may have celebrated Macron's rebuke of Trump's "America First" policies, which are often seen as inhumane and turning away from the US's much-publicized values of compassion and openness, the massive mobilization of the Yellow Vests and the downfall of liberal leaders across Europe may give Trump the last laugh.
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