Graham West, 4/26/2018 [Archive]

Finally, a Presidential Speech in Washington

Finally, a Presidential Speech in Washington

By Graham F. West


It was beyond reassuring to hear a robust, principled speech in favor of liberal internationalism on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Less ideal, of course, was that the speech came not from the President of the United States, but instead the President of France: Emmanuel Macron.

Predictable media narratives are already emerging about the speech. First, the American left is inevitably being criticized for preferring another president's ideology to our own; there is often similar right wing media whining when Democrats take a shine to a foreign leader (e.g. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau). It's an ironic claim now, given that same right wing media spent years allowing the GOP - including the sitting President and Vice President - to sing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's praises in comparison to U.S. President Barack Obama.

But beyond that, the speech is being portrayed as an attack by President Macron not just on President Trump's policies, but in some sense on the man himself. After days of palling around together and posing for all the photos a state visit affords, how could President Macron offer before the U.S. Congress such a scathing rebuke of so many principles that his American counterpart held dear? But whether or not it was what President Trump wanted to hear, President Macron's speech was the right one for this moment.

France knows something about the dangers of heightened nationalism, which - coupled with fake news, foreign influence, and vicious xenophobia - almost saw its presidency fall to an outrageously far right leader in May 2017. President Macron referenced the danger in his speech and deliberately warned it would only be inflamed by isolationist foreign policy, urging the United States not to close our doors to the world. It was an obvious caution against everything baked into President Trump's America First platform, from its protectionist trade policies to its flirtations with (and origins in) far right extremism.

Rather than just bemoan the dangers of the status quo, however, President Macron also praised the virtues of robust liberal internationalism in the 21st century. In laying out the collective action challenges that that will define our generation in the history books - including refugee admissions, climate change, and nuclear proliferation - he made a persuasive case for nations with common values to work together. Built into that plea, of course, is the need for President Trump to stop withdrawing from the very international agreements and institutions meant to address those problems.

There may be a cost to President Macron's stand, of course. He has clearly worked hard over the past few days to curry his American counterpart's favor through congenial interactions, personal flattery, and enthusiastic participation in the pomp and circumstance that President Trump is known to love. Those efforts to build a personal relationship are obviously far more useful in working with President Trump than, say, painstakingly building policy consensus. But they may be for naught if America's foremost cable TV viewer hears a talking head say that the Frenchman's speech was an all-out assault on his ideology.

But perhaps that is one of the things that made President Macron's speech so refreshing. Standing for liberal values and showing political courage are both, fundamentally, about accepting whatever cost may come. It's an approach that stands in stark contrast to President Trump, who constantly drifts from position to position based on which conniving advisor he talks to last or what he thinks the rally crowd wants to hear.

In any case, with an utter lack of acceptance of - let alone praise for - multilateralism, multiculturalism, and multifaceted American leadership in the world coming from the White House, it was reassuring once again to hear a chief executive speak before Congress with a forward-looking vision for nations working together. President Macron's words may incense President Trump, or they may simply fall on deaf ears. Either way, they were the right thing to say.

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Copyright 2018 Graham F. West, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at gwest@trumancnp.org.

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