The Trump White House issued an unlikely message Wednesday: Viva la France!
It turns out Donald Trump, the “America first” president who regularly rankles the United States’ European allies, will visit President Emmanuel Macron’s France before Prime Minister Theresa May’s United Kingdom.
Few would have predicted that on Inauguration Day, just the latest twist in an unpredictable presidency.
The White House announced Wednesday morning that Trump has accepted an invitation from the new French president to attend that country’s Bastille Day celebration on July 14. The annual event this year will mark the 100th anniversary of American military forces joining the fight in World War I.
Trump and Macron, to put it mildly, got off to an awkward start.
The right-leaning, populist U.S. president made it clear that he would have preferred Macron’s foe in the final round of France’s presidential election, far-right populist candidate Marine Le Pen.
And when Trump and Macron were face-to-face for the first time last month during NATO and G7 summits in Europe, things got weirder. Just recall their alpha dog-vs.-alpha dog handshake on May 25 in Brussels.
Nothing but white knuckles were visible as both presidents employed their firmest grips. Macron was clearly proud that he had, in his mind, stood up to a still-new American president many Europeans view as brash and heavy-handed.
“My handshake with him, it’s not innocent,” Macron told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview published three days after the moment that gave new meaning to the term grip-and-grin. “It’s not the alpha and the omega of politics, but a moment of truth.”
Yet, Trump’s White House communications shop issued a statement oozing with transatlantic goodwill that conjured up memories of Paris providing assistance to the former British colonies in North America during the Revolutionary War after they declared independence, saying Trump “looks forward to reaffirming America’s strong ties of friendship with France.”
“The two leaders will further build on the strong counter-terrorism cooperation and economic partnership between the two countries, and they will discuss many other issues of mutual concern,” the White House said.
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, sometimes noted that France is America’s oldest ally. Trump is not — yet — using that rhetoric. But the Bastille Day visit could be a start — even though Trump’s disapproval ratings in France typically are in the low 80s.
Still, the July trip, when viewed after eight years of close U.S.-French relations under Obama and when the two countries’ partnership on things like counterterrorism is factored in, show Paris and Washington have moved a considerable distance away from the days of “Freedom Fries” in which House-side cafeterias protested the French resistance to George W. Bush’s push for war in the Mideast by renaming deep-fried potatoes.
What’s more, after months of criticizing America’s European allies as a candidate, Trump is set to spend a fair amount of time on the continent in July. Next week, he will take Air Force One to Poland then to Germany for a G20 summit before his French sojourn.