What if Macron Wasn’t Just Putting on a Show for Donald Trump?

It must have been a tempting prospect for a political prodigy.

Emmanuel Macron is young and intelligent, with a charmed career. He jumped the generational queue and scrambled French politics with his out-of-nowhere presidential victory. Then he completed his disruption from the center when his brand-new party won an absolute majority in parliament. Now, Macron sees that for at least three and a half years of his five-year term, his U.S. counterpart will be Donald Trump. Not ideal, perhaps. But why not win him over, smother him with kindness?

And so Macron became the self-appointed Trump Whisperer. Over the course of two days in Paris last week, the two presidents reviewed troops, paid homage at the tomb of Napoleon, dined in the Eiffel Tower restaurant with their spouses, heard a military band perform a Daft Punk medley, and added to their archive of competitive-primate handshakes. They spent more time in private tête-à-tête and casual interaction than Trump usually devotes to foreign leaders. And in their comments to reporters, each underlined not just the ancient ties between France and the U.S., but their own budding personal friendship.

What’s Macron up to? By inviting Trump to the Bastille Day celebration, and using the centennial of American entry into World War I as an excuse for U.S. soldiers to parade down the Champs-Elysées, he offered a prestige podium to an American president who is roundly disliked by Macron’s close associates in Berlin and Brussels, not to mention by the French public, which still pines for Barack Obama. The visit also seemed to jar with Macron’s fast retort when Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord just last month; the French president was on television within hours, with a statement in French and English reaffirming the accord and inviting American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to consider France their home. The slogan he deployed that night, “Make Our Planet Great Again,” was…

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