Trump and Macron strike up unlikely Bastille Day bromance

Not even the US president’s comment about Macron’s wife’s body could dent the affair

French president Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with US president Donald Trump, next to Melania Trump, during the Bastille Day military parade in Paris. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

French president Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with US president Donald Trump, next to Melania Trump, during the Bastille Day military parade in Paris. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Promenade des Anglais fell silent at 10.34 last night, the exact moment when a Tunisian lorry driver started his rampage down the seafront in Nice one year earlier, killing 86 people and injuring 460 others.

Eighty-six beams of white light rose into the sky. There were no fireworks in Nice or the surrounding coastline, out of respect for the dead.

Instead, hundreds of white helium balloons were released. “We should imagine, like the Japanese, their souls floating forever in the sky above the sea, like a marvellous flight of butterflies,” said the text by the Nobel laureate in literature Jean-Marie Le Clézio, who was born in Nice.

Le Clézio’s text was read by actors at a late afternoon ceremony attended by President Emmanuel Macron, former presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, Prince Albert of Monaco and Bono. Cabinet ministers wept as the names and ages of all 86 victims were read out and their faces projected on a giant screen. The number of children was shocking. The number of Arabs killed was striking.

The florists of Nice donated flowers to be strewn on the promenade. Mayor Christian Estrosi decorated 42 people with the Legion of Honour. Franck Terrier, the “scooter hero” who tried to stop the lorry driver, was especially applauded.

“Every French person remembers where he or she was on the night of July 14th. Every one of us felt the immense pain that fell upon you,” Mr Macron said, recalling “days of horror and mourning . . . the darkest nightmare”.

The president acknowledged the anger Nice’s citizens directed at public figures. He said he understood. “One seeks the causes, and the state must face its responsibilities.” But he also knew the president, prime minister and interior minister of the time. He had seen how many attacks they prevented and their stupefaction on the night of Nice.

The speech became a plea for confidence in public leaders. “The state will never abandon you,” he promised. “Dignity and courage must not encounter bureaucratic coldness . . . We will relentlessly pursue the fight against terrorism.”

Bastille Day in Nice had been one of the most beautiful in France, Mr Macron said. “The fireworks over the Bay of Angels, the warm summer nights made it a moment of particular grace. July 14th in Nice will never be the same, and it will never be exactly the same in France.”

Trump on parade

Nice was remembered earlier in the day, too, in Paris, when Nissa la Bella, the city’s anthem, was played on the Champs Élysées and the military band formed the word “Nice” before the reviewing stand where the presidents of France and the US were seated.

Donald Trump loves a good parade. He had wanted a Moscow-style military parade for his own inauguration last January, but was advised against it because of bad weather.  

When Rafale and Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft stormed down the Champs Élysées at 500km an hour, trailing blue, white and red smoke, Trump cheered like an excited schoolboy. He stood to salute the US military contingent that led the parade marking the 100th anniversary since the US joined the first World War.

Cadets from St Cyr marched in red trousers and plumed helmets. The republican guard rode magnificent horses. A first World War tank, Fleur d’amour, broke down, then restarted, its tracks clattering on the cobblestones. There was mostly monotony as thousands of men and vehicles went by in formation.

A pariah in Paris

A debate raged in the columns of French newspapers about whether Macron had been right to invite “a pariah” (Libération’s front page headline) to Paris. Social media criticised Trump’s seemingly sexist and ageist comment that Brigitte Macron (64) was “in such good physical shape”.

But nothing dented the unlikely bromance between Trump and Macron. They talked, smiled and patted each other on the arm and shoulder.

“Nothing will ever separate us,” Macron said in a brief speech before the Trumps drove away in a massive armoured black Cadillac.

From the show of power, one would hardly suspect the chief of staff of the French armed forces was on the verge of resignation. Before dining with the Trumps on Thursday evening, Macron made a speech that upset officers at a defence ministry reception.

“I consider it not worthy to air certain debates in public,” the French president said. “I am your boss. The commitments I make before our fellow citizens and before the armed forces, I intend to keep. I need no pressure and no commentary.”

The government has decided to cut €1 billion in military credits in the effort to meet EU budget criteria this year. “I will not be screwed like that,” Gen Pierre de Villiers, the chief of staff, told the National Assembly’s defence commission on July 12th. Macron, who is determined to assert his presidential authority, put the general in his place.