The American leader is deliberately presiding over a retreat from global leadership by the United States. Mr. Macron wants to be a global leader but is painfully aware that France, despite its status as a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, cannot compete. So he is enlisting Europe in his ambition. In President Trump’s view, America will become great again by withdrawing from the world. In President Macron’s view, France can be great again only by making Europe a global actor.
Compare the two leaders’ visits to China: In November, Mr. Trump, flattered and treated to a lavish banquet in the Great Hall of the People by a very determined Chinese president, forgot to talk about trade — supposedly his biggest issue with China. In January, Mr. Macron proclaimed in Beijing that “France is back, Europe is back” and proceeded to demand from the same leader, Xi Jinping, reciprocity in access to Chinese and European markets — a constant theme of his three-day visit. Whether the Chinese will give in is another story, but presumably they spotted the difference.
.. Now, they represent two camps within the Western world:
- a camp of nationalist leaders, which include a handful of Trump followers inside the European Union, and
- a camp of internationalists, gathering most of Europe’s heavyweights around President Macron and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. Thanks to Donald Trump’s clumsiness, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain has joined the latter camp, even while negotiating Brexit.
.. Why similar domestic political dynamics produced such different effects is very much a question of electoral mechanics. Under America’s Electoral College system, Donald Trump could beat a candidate who won the popular vote by a majority of three million, while France’s two-round system never gave Ms. Le Pen a chance.
.. Mr. Trump’s erratic debut at the White House, coupled with the shock of the Brexit referendum, also made French voters think twice before taking the nationalist direction.
.. The two men may pretend to enjoy a warm relationship. They may even think they do, based on their common imperative of fighting terrorism. Yet the way they exercise power and the policies they promote keeps them apart.
.. Mr. Trump, who campaigned as a populist and rules as one, is accused of diminishing the American presidency. His compulsive tweeting habits, betraying a limited vocabulary, aim to bypass the mainstream media that he loathes; he watches TV, doesn’t read books, takes a lot of time off.
Mr. Macron, as soon as he was elected, reverted to a quasi-monarchical presidential role. His goal, he explained, was to restore authority and dignity to an office that had been weakened by his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hollande. His Twitter line is kept strictly to official announcements. He communicates through 90-minute speeches and lengthy interviews studded with references to philosophers, archaic words and refined grammar.
.. He is a true workaholic and makes it known that his nights are short.
The two leaders do have a few things in common. They are both lucky — and in politics, luck matters. The American president enjoys buoyant economic conditions, part of a global economic surge; similarly, his French counterpart has benefited from an upswing in the eurozone. They both managed to pass, in their first year, a tax reform criticized by their opponents for mostly benefiting the wealthy and intended to convince the corporate world that they are on its side. But neither conforms to a classic ideological line; pundits in their respective countries struggle to define Macronism or Trumpism.
.. The approval ratings of President Macron, unlike those of President Trump, are on the rise.
.. Much of the future of the liberal democratic West will depend on these two mavericks’ fortunes.