In what appeared a direct rebuke, French President Emmanuel Macron warned President Trump and other leaders Sunday that a dark new tide of nationalism, the label Trump recently embraced for his “America first” movement, ignores the painful lessons of history and threatens a fragile global order.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said as Trump sat, unsmiling, with more than 100 other world leaders at a solemn commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe of the moment when World War I officially ended 100 years ago.
“Old demons are coming back to the surface,” Macron declared, citing the dangerous resurgence of the ethnic and religious hatreds that led to that devastating conflict — and the cataclysmic global war that followed three decades later.
Macron’s address reflected the widespread anger and concern in Europe about Trump’s belligerent rhetoric and policies, which have put his administration at odds with America’s closest allies and challenged the alliances and institutions built to ensure peace since the end of World War II.
Trump’s go-it-alone approach on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and trade, among other issues, was symbolized when he literally walked apart from the dozens of world leaders who marched together under black umbrellas down the rain-soaked Champs-Elysees for the official Armistice Day ceremony.
Aides said he had arrived separately in a motorcade for security reasons. Despite the November chill and the security cordon, a topless woman with “fake,” “peace” and other words written on her body managed to run near Trump’s vehicle.
Trump also attended a lunch with world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Sunday. The event was closed to the press but Russian media reported afterward that the men exchanged brief greetings. They are expected to hold formal talks this month at a Group of 20 summit in Argentina.
Trump left Paris late Sunday to fly back to Washington, skipping a three-day forum that Macron hosted together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an effort to galvanize global action on shared challenges, including climate change.
Merkel warned against taking peace for granted, saying, “We have to work for it.” She also made a veiled dig at Trump’s attacks on multilateral organizations, saying that “unwillingness to compromise” can have deadly consequences.
Macron’s address Sunday in effect served as a rebuttal to Trump’s September address to the United Nations General Assembly, where he defined globalism as the opposite of patriotism.
Europe’s liberal democratic leaders have felt under threat from a rising tide of right-wing populist nationalism in Poland, Hungary, Russia and elsewhere, even as Trump has challenged the transatlantic alliance. Britain’s decision to exit the European Union, followed by Trump’s electoral victory in 2016, cemented that anxiety.
The EU now faces unprecedented strains from a backlash to a migrant flood from Africa and the Middle East, a decade-long financial crisis that has worsened inequality in many areas, and a bevy of far-right politicians who have exploited ancient ethnic divisions and fears.
Merkel had been the public face of European resistance to the revival of right-wing nationalism, but she recently announced plans to step down as party leader and ease out of public life in the next few years.
Macron, who tried to charm Trump last year by inviting him to a Bastille Day parade and dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, has increasingly assumed that role. His bromance with Trump, once filled with friendly pats and body hugs, gave way this weekend to polite handshakes and tight-lipped smiles.
“It’s become clear over the last few weeks that Macron has given up on his effort to become Trump’s best friend in Europe and I think he’s also seeing a leadership vacuum in Europe, particularly with Merkel’s decision to withdraw from politics,” said Alexander Vershbow, who served as U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, worked in the Obama administration and held the role of NATO’s deputy secretary-general.
Macron’s speech, he said, was “very in-your-face for the supposedly unifying purpose of this commemoration, but it reflects the strong belief of Macron and others that Trump is abandoning American leadership and transatlantic solidarity.”
As U.S. president, Trump sat front row center at the centennial ceremony Sunday. He received a hearty handshake from Macron and a thumbs-up from Putin under a temporary viewing structure that protected them from an onslaught of rain.
But the lone keynote speech delivered by Macron was not designed to comfort Trump, who sat between First Lady Melania Trump and Merkel.
Macron recounted the infinite suffering inflicted by the first world war — more than 16 million soldiers and civilians killed, millions more maimed and wounded, and the shelling, slaughter and poison gas that laid waste to vast swaths of Europe, “the scars of which are still visible.”
The lesson of World War I, he said, “cannot be rancor and resentment against other nations and it cannot be allowing the past to be forgotten.”
Macon did not name Trump or his “America first” mantra. But he cast nationalism as a dangerous and selfish ideology, one that led to two world wars.
“By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others?’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace, and what is essential for its moral values,” Macron said.
Trump gave no public response to the speech. Though he sent a critical tweet about Macron as he landed here Friday night, Trump tweeted Sunday that he had attended a “beautiful ceremony” and thanked Macron.
Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution in Washington, said Macron’s rebuke might have been “too subtle for the president to notice personally,” part of a pattern among Western leaders who “reject the concept of Trump but not the man himself.”
“They think he’s ridiculous, but they are also frightened of him and the ideology he represents,” Wright said.
Macron’s speech was the centerpiece of a stirring memorial service that commemorated the moment the guns went silent in 1918 — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — after four years of unremitting carnage.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma joined the French violinist Renaud Capucon for a mournful Ravel sonata. High school students read testimonials from Allied soldiers recounting tears and exhilaration from the war’s end. Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo sang a song of devotion and gratitude.
Trump and other leaders did not speak at the ceremony, but Trump spoke later at a Veterans Day commemoration at the Suresnes American Cemetery just outside Paris.
Trump, who stood in a light rain without an umbrella, said he had come to “pay tribute to the brave Americans who gave their last breath in that mighty struggle.”
The ceremony, on a hilltop with distant views of the Eiffel Tower, featured French and American flags and a bugler playing taps for the more than 1,500 U.S. soldiers interred here. Before speaking, Trump wandered briefly between the spare white crosses that line the field.
On Saturday, Trump had been widely mocked for canceling a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, about 60 miles northeast of Paris, which holds the remains of several thousand U.S. soldiers who died in the terrible battle of Belleau Wood. The White House blamed rain for scrubbing the visit.