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Trump’s bizarre embrace of French nationalism

“There is no country more Nationalist than France.”

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump in Paris on November 11, 2018.
Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

President Trump is back from Europe, where a series of solemn events commemorated the centennial of the end of World War I — and is tweeting approvingly about European nationalism.

During his speech to commemorate the centennial of the end of WWI on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron indirectly took aim at Trump’s recent embrace of the term “nationalism.”

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said. “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.”

Two days later, Trump responded with a string of tweets in which he highlighted Macron’s relatively low approval rating and endorsed French nationalist movements.

“The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%,” he wrote. “He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!”

Trump followed up with another tweet that said, “......MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!”

France is the birthplace of a far-right brand of European nationalism — exemplified by the National Front, founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen — that anticipated Trump’s politics by decades.

Le Pen’s daughter Marine, now the National Front’s leader, has cozied up to Trump: During her presidential campaign in 2017, she described Trump’s election as “an additional stone in the building of a new world.” Like Trump, she’s expressed Islamophobic sentiments; wants to distance France from some of its longstanding international relationships, like the European Union; supports reductions in legal immigration; and takes a hard line toward undocumented immigrants.

“If you come to our country, don’t expect to be taken care of, to be looked after, that your children will be educated without charge,” she said in a speech in Paris last year. “Playtime is over.”

Le Pen has not had Trump’s level of electoral success: Macron defeated her by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But in many ways, the party is resurgent. The 2017 election was the first time since 2002 that the National Front candidate had made it to the runoff at all. And recent polling indicates that the slide in Macron’s approval ratings positions Le Pen to make perhaps an even stronger challenge in the next presidential elections.

Macron’s speech was initially about nationalism and World War I

Although it was widely interpreted as a jab at Trump, Macron’s speech on Sunday diagnosed nationalism as the root cause of World War I.

“I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death,” he said. “History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again.”

Trump, however, seems to have drawn a different lesson from the Great War. In yet another bellicose tweet posted Tuesday morning, the US president highlighted that American intervention was needed to help France defeat Germany in World Wars I and II.

“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia,” Trump wrote. “But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

Trump’s tweet is in reference to comments Macron made last week warning that Europe has “to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America” with “a true, European army.”

“We must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States,” Macron added.

Trump disparaged Macron’s remarks as “very insulting,” despite his repeated complaints about NATO countries like France not spending enough on defense.

France already spends 1.8 percent of its GDP on defense, meaning it’s close to meeting a commitment the country made along with other members of NATO in 2014 to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense by 2024.