President Trump made his way to France this weekend, where President Emmanuel Macron delivered a direct rebuke of Trump's leadership style during a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I.
“Patriotism is the opposite of nationalism,” Macron said to a group of world leaders that included Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying, ‘Our interest first. Who cares about the others?’”
Though Macron was speaking to the general group of leaders gathered before him, he was directly responding to Trump, who a few weeks ago described himself as a nationalist, and whose divisive style has directly inspired nationalist activists in the U.K. and Eastern Europe. Macron’s critique, however, wasn't the only controversial moment of Trump's visit. Trump fired off missives against the French president before even landing on French soil, and he decided not to visit the graves of American soldiers who died in World War I because it was raining.
“This was just a diplomatic disgrace, and I don’t know how you could see it any other way,” said WGBH News Analyst and CEO of the GroundTruth Project Charlie Sennott.
Trump has forged an unconventional governing style that has stoked racial tensions, vilified the press, and put him at odds with longstanding allies like France and Germany. Sennott worries that while Trump’s mentality may win him some short term gains, particularly with the base of voters who elected him, it’s not a sustainable model for the U.S. in the long run.
“These are understandings and international agreements we forged after our role in World War II where we became a sort of beacon in the world,” Sennott said. “I agree with Macron that nationalism is an insult to [the kind of patriotism that is about] leadership, and about being proud of your country. If you resort to nationalist, populist rhetoric that alienates and divides, you insult what patriotism is.”
Trump’s decision to skip visiting the graves of the fallen soldiers immediately drew criticism from former Secretary of State John Kerry, who is himself a veteran, from the U.K.’s conservative Defense Minister Gavin Williamson, and from Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, who said Trump’s decision to skip visiting the cemetery was “pathetic” and “inadequate.”
Though Trump has surrounded himself with military brass like former generals James Mattis and John Kelly, Sennott says his decision to skip visiting the graves of fallen American soldiers on Armistice Day demonstrates how disconnected the president really is from the reality of war and the lives of soldiers and veterans.
“This was a big slight,” Sennott said. “This was an ignorance about the meaning of war by a president who’s never fought one, who’s never been in the military nor had a family tradition of the military, and [Trump just has] no connection to the loss of war, and to the feeling of being somber or reverent.”