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November 17, 2018

Diary of April 27, 2018

The British, I think we can say with some confidence, are not entirely happy about the bond formed between Donald Trump and, Emmanuel Macron, so prominently displayed during the French president’s state visit to Washington. Our transatlantic cousins on the other side of la Manche have often in the past had occasion to mention the "Special Relationship" forged during World War II between Churchill and Roosevelt and renewed, as they see it, by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Tony Blair’s many critics in his native land now tend to see his highly unpopular involvement in the Iraq War as a misguided attempt to replay the Thatcher-Reagan relationship with George W. Bush — which may be the reason why the Special Relationship has fallen into something of an eclipse in recent years.

But there is nothing like jealousy of a romantic rival to bring back the old feelings of attachment, and M. Macron’s love-fest with Mr Trump may have done the trick. As if to taunt the Brits at the first state dinner the Trumps have given for a foreign leader, the Frenchman toasted his own "very special relationship" with the US and its leader, such appreciations of whom have been hitherto somewhat thin on the ground — as British observers are sure M. Macron was very well aware. "Some commentators were amazed to see such fulsome displays of affection between two figures who are poles apart in political terms," wrote Adam Sage in The Times of London.

Those familiar with Macron were less surprised, however. They pointed out that he has always been attracted to older people, especially when they are in positions of authority, and inevitably tries to chat them up. Brigitte Macron, his wife, is the most obvious example, given that she was a teacher at his secondary school when he seduced her and is 24 years his senior. But there are many others too — philosophers, bankers and politicians who have fallen for Macron’s charm at one point or another. So it came as no surprise when he tried to seduce Trump as well.

And he went on to quote Anne Fulda, author of a biography, Emmanuel Macron, un jeune homme si parfait, (so far available only in the French edition) who wrote that "he needs to be admired by those he frequents, particularly by his elders, by those who have a power he does not possess. . .He wants to conquer them, to embrace them."

Con Coughlin in The Daily Telegraph was less interested in such talents for sucking up to the powerful than in what he sees as France’s historic unreliability as an ally, even going so far as to remind us that "it was not that long ago, after all, that many in Washington regarded France as being a nation of — to use the phrase famously coined by The Simpsons — "cheese-eating surrender monkeys". Of course he doesn’t choose to mention that it was a Briton, the Scotsman known as Groundskeeper Willie, who calls them that, in spite of Scotland’s own ancient alliance with France and against England.

Mr Coughlin’s more serious charge is that "there is still a long way to go before this particular entente cordiale succeeds in overcoming the deep-seated antipathy for America among France’s political and cultural elites." These sinister characters are said to "regard America’s economic and financial dominance as posing an existential threat to la vie en rose, which is built on the premise that no one works more than a 35-hour week, and that all the key ingredients for a happy life, from fine food and wine to respectable pensions, are funded by the state."

That kind of thing may begin to sound a bit like sour grapes on the part of les rosbifs. Nor is it likely to help that Mr Trump’s just-announced trip to the UK in July is not a state visit and will not include a meeting with the Queen. Until today, it looked as if a more casual correspondent of The Times might have had the answer. A letter to the editor from Clare Lees of Lytchett Minster, Dorset, read as follows:

Sir, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are to be congratulated on the birth of their second son. May I suggest they "take one for the team" and consider calling the baby Donald? I have the feeling that we may need all the help we can get when it comes to securing a post-Brexit US trade deal.

Would not the President have jumped at the chance to be Prince Donald’s godfather? Would not the French have been furious with the British for playing this Trump card? Alas, the royal couple missed their chance to take one for the team and instead named the child Louis. Sounds like a French name to me.



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