Coming just months after the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and as illiberal authoritarianism seemed to be creeping all over Europe, the election of French president Emmanuel Macron brought a sigh of relief to many across Western democracies.
It was May 2017 when Macron, a pro-European centrist, decisively defeated the far-right, Euroskeptic Marine le Pen. Enthusiastic and patriotic messages such as “Vive la France” or “Vive l’Europe” poured in on Twitter from both sides of the Atlantic.
Some Americans weren’t shy about describing Macron’s victory as a defeat for both Trump and right-wing nationalism around the world. “Macron’s win is a blow to far-right nationalism,” former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted, and “and a sign that the Brexit-Trump wave has broken in West.” Trump’s defeated rival Hillary Clinton hailed the French vote as a “victory for Macron, for France, the EU, and the world.”
Immediately after Macron took office, the young president postured to show the world he was no pushover. At his first official meeting with Trump ahead of the NATO summit that May, Macron engaged Trump in a bone crushing, never-ending, awkward handshake that played out like a standoff between the two men’s divergent politics.
Videos and second by second analysis flooded the news cycle. “That’s how you ensure you are respected,” Macron gloated to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper afterward. “You have to show you won’t make small concessions — not even symbolic ones.”
Riding on this confident wave, Macron went on to troll Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement by inviting US scientists and engineers to come work in France — and then launching a campaign called “Make the planet great again.”
But what some thought was the beginning of a boxing match between Macron and Trump ended up being a highly orchestrated WWE. The rivalry didn’t last long. Indeed, just two months after the handshake, Macron feted Trump at a Bastille Day military parade…