Trump and France’s Macron: Much in Common?

by Heather Robinson

President Donald Trump crossed an ocean this week to spend Bastille Day, France’s celebration of Independence, with the French, including France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

While much has been made of Trump’s remark to France’s first lady, Brigette Macron, for being in “great physical shape,” my focus has shifted to what appears to be a budding friendship and mutual respect between Trump and Macron.

On the surface these men are opposites: Macron, France’s 39-year-old leader, is boyish, considered politically slightly left of center, married to a woman 24 years older than he; while Trump, 70, is technically a senior citizen, considered politically to the right, married to a woman 24 years younger than he.

I think they actually have something hugely significant in common.

They are both – more than most politicians and the vast majority of human beings – their own men.

These are highly individualistic men who – whatever you think of their politics, and the decisions they have made in their personal lives – possess an extraordinary level of personal confidence and belief in themselves that has enabled each of them to rise to great heights without giving up that essential quality – the ability to do things as he sees fit, the opinions of others be damned.

That is rare in life, and even more rare in politics.

Donald Trump pursued the White House at age 69 in a rigidly two-party system without the backing of either party, at least initially. In a move unprecedented in modern American politics, he self-financed his own campaign, at least until he obtained the Republican nomination. As President, he continues to communicate with the American people via Twitter with no filter – literally or figuratively. Like it or not, he pursued the Presidency in his own unconventional way, and he will not be deterred from governing in his own signature style, despite the advice of many voices in the chattering class.

I’m not suggesting that neither man has made compromises. Anyone, in order to succeed, must be able to do so. But I’m suggesting both of these men seem to have the capacity to make bold, unconventional decisions despite opposition, the threat of public humiliation, and condemnation.

In reading about the events that unfolded recently between Trump and Macron, I’ve been struck by both men’s boldness. Consider: after Trump made disparaging remarks regarding NATO and pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, Macron made the bold move of calling Trump and asking him to come to France for Bastille Day. The latest is Trump may be reconsidering, or at least open to continuing to hear about, possibilities for an accord on climate change. And of course, we all know about the famous two-minute handshake.

I’ve also been reading about Macron’s personal life. He first met his wife, Brigette, when he was a high school student and she was his drama teacher. Though his parents put a stop to their romance when he was a teenager, transferring their son to a different school, at age 17, he told Brigette, “You cannot get rid of me. I will come back and marry you.” Fast forward a few years, after she was divorced and he was 29, they did marry (She was 54).

Last year Macron told Paris Match magazine that his parents “took it badly” when they discovered the affair. He said, “I had to fight in order to live both my private and my professional life as I wish.”

Macron certainly had to man up and deal with a lot of negativity to be with the life partner of his choice.

He has also said, “I had to fight and it wasn’t the easiest or most obvious, not the most automatic thing to do, nor did it correspond with established norms.”

Trump, too, has no problem defying “established norms” with age difference in love, the opinions of others be damned.

Back to politics: in today’s polarized political climate, anyone who is a political moderate or independent – who believes that issues should be examined individually and decisions reached with sensitivity to nuance, who recognizes the need for cooperation across political lines, who thinks outside the rigid two-party box – must, ironically, be a leader of radically strong personal character, because he or she must be willing to submit to criticism and even abuse from not one, but both, sides.

In our time of great narrowmindedness, it will take leaders of great individual strength of character to call forth the more nuanced, more cooperative qualities in their people. It will take true leadership to get us working together despite differences, to find common ground and problem solve. It will, ironically, take leaders of stubborn, supremely self-assured personal character to be able to stand up for the values of moderation and compromise, despite being disparaged by extremists on both sides as being weak for doing so.

One thing these two men – however different they may be in other ways – have in common is, neither is an ideologue or a follower, and I think they respect that quality in each other. Both, to paraphrase the great poet Rudyard Kipling, seem able “to trust [themselves] when all men doubt [them].”

That is a very rare quality.

It’s part of what makes a leader.

In my view, our President has the courage and backbone a great leader needs.

May he continue to develop the great heart, and the wisdom, of a great leader as well.