France’s Emmanuel Macron: Birth of the anti-Trump?

US President Donald Trump (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron watch an Italian flying squadronImage copyright AFP

Emmanuel Macron has just won the rare distinction of being the most re-tweeted French person in history.

In less than 24 hours, his Trump-defying message “make our planet great again” was shared more than 140,000 times, easily ousting the previous record-holder, the rather less high-minded TV presenter Cyril Hanouna. One fifth of the re-tweets were in the US.

It is proof yet again that what we witnessed from the Elysee on Thursday was a master class in communications.

A growing fan club

In giving his TV reaction to the US president, not only did Macron break brazenly with longstanding convention, according to which French presidents never speak publicly in English, but he even had the chutzpah to subvert the US leader’s personal campaign slogan.

“Make our planet great again” was a provocation dressed up as a call to virtue. As a catchphrase for the faithful, it was irresistible.

By tweeting it, Macron took one more step down his road to investiture as that long-awaited international figure: the anti-Trump.

The French leader has a growing fan club: in France, the US and across the globe, among people who see him as the polar opposite, the perfect antithesis of his counterpart in the White House.

These people love the fact that with the arrival of Macron, the existing order appears to have been turned on its head.

It used to be France that was old, inward-looking and incapable of regeneration. And America that was the land of youth, energy and leadership.

But where is that caricature now?

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Media captionDonald Trump’s handshakes with world leaders, including President Macron, have been closely watched

And they adore the way that Macron had the nerve to face down Trump in the Brussels handshake. At last, they feel, we have a champion with the guts and the conviction to challenge the Trumpian order.

Macron himself never planned any of this. When he first thought of running for the presidency, the chances of a Trump in the White House seemed too ludicrous to contemplate.

But not for the first time, the stars seem to have been aligned for France’s boy-prodigy.

Just as in domestic politics doors seemed to open miraculously for President Macron, so in the world of international affairs shifts of power and ideology are also working in his favour – for now.

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Media captionFrench President Emmanuel Macron says Paris agreement will “make the planet great again”

The tilt towards nationalist interests exemplified by Trump’s America has created a clear leadership space for someone who will fly the other flag. Providential or not, Macron has come to power just as a reaction sets in against the populist tide of the last few years – and he is poised to reap the reward.

With its perpetual harping on about ideals and morals, France’s capacity to irritate is prodigious. Perhaps it will not be long before Macron loses his touch and the world starts panting for his comeuppance.

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But right now, with Trump in the White House, French preachiness doesn’t appear to raise as many heckles as it used to. Having a quotable charmer for a president certainly helps.

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