When Theresa May invited Donald Trump to London, shortly after his inauguration, the howls of the bien-pensant commentariat could be heard from Islington to Brighton. Yet when Emmanuel Macron invited the American president to Paris to stand by his side on Bastille Day, there was barely a peep.
How to explain this? Sophie Pedder, Paris editor of the Macron-infatuated Economist, was quick off the mark. Macron, she announced, had extended his invitation to Trump from a position of strength and credibility. ‘May has neither.’
The Elysée press office could not have expressed it more viciously. Yet this conveniently overlooks that May’s invitation was issued before the general election, when May hardly seemed weak nor incredible, while Macron’s invitation served no purpose other than to glorify Macron himself, who revelled in every moment of the celebrations.
In his thus-far brief presidency, Macron has shown himself obsessed with symbolism and the accumulation of total power. His presidential portrait, which I have previously discussed in these columns, is one example. His regal entrance to the Palace of Versailles for a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate, another. Landing in a harness from a helicopter on the deck of a French nuclear submarine was perhaps his most Jupiterian stunt so far.
His vague programme to reform everything has yet to advance a centimetre, but his obsessive auto-glorification suggests that Macron and Trump are rather similar. It is not just Trump who suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. And not just Trump who seems incapable of broaching any opposition whatsoever.
On the eve of Trump’s visit, the highlight of which was the traditional military parade down the Champs Elysée, Macron took time out to humiliate Pierre de Villiers, the head of his army, who had dared to express to deputies his unease at the new president’s plan to cut the army’s budget, despite his campaign promise not to do so. The reaction was brutal. ‘Je suis votre chef,’ declared Macron, who, like Trump, has himself never served a day in the service of his country.
It seems that any defiance will now provoke the reprisals of the Macron movement. In southern France, Macron’s party has launched a legal challenge to the parliamentary victory of the conservative opposition deputy Emmanuelle Ménard, who inflicted a crushing defeat on the candidate of Macron’s La République en Marche. Macron’s party has now complained to the constitutional court alleging that (shockingly!), Mme Ménard had enjoyed the support of her husband, the mayor of Béziers, and of her own blog, Boulevard Voltaire. That Macron enjoyed the support of the essentially the entirety of the mainstream media in France is an irony that has been overlooked. Mme Ménard, a smart communicator who considers Macron a phoney, has been targeted for judicial assassination.
In this week in which France supposedly celebrates liberty, equality and fraternity, lest any journalists get the idea that they can defy the Elysée, the editor of Paris Match has been judicially summonsed to explain why he published photographs of the massacre perpetrated at Nice a year ago, since these pictures are considered by the government to be unsuitable for distribution. Meanwhile, there are data showing that France has become the most active nation in Europe at suppressing Twitter and Facebook accounts that do not meet the government’s standards of acceptability.
There is an authoritarian whiff about Mr Macron, propelled by exactly the same self-regard as his American homologue. As he paraded imperiously around Paris with Trump at his side, we saw not one, but two presidents utterly incapable of humility or restraint. Talk of ‘Macron mania,’ so readily accepted by credulous journalists in Paris and beyond, is utter nonsense. Macron is not adored by the French who elected him because the only alternative was Marine Le Pen. The mania seems to be entirely within Macron himself.
Jonathan Miller is a municipal councillor in southern France and author of France, a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. He tweets @lefoudubaron.