By Chris Honoré
French President Emmanuel Macron addressed a joint session of Congress last Wednesday and it proved remarkable. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the PDA between Macron and Trump the previous day did not prepare me, nor his congressional audience, for the speech Macron delivered on a range of topics.
It was clear that what he said resonated with the Democrats, while the Republicans listened to his words with either a polite, even grudging applause or a tight-lipped silence. What he said caused me not only to listen intently, but also to ponder the chasm that exists between progressives and conservatives. How is it possible that the role of government in our lives can be so differently framed?
I also realized, with a degree of sadness, that this was the speech I yearned to hear from an American president and would never hear from the current resident of the White House.
Macron appealed to Congress to return to the Paris Climate Accord from which Trump inexplicably withdrew, in June of 2017, for reasons he never articulated given that the agreement was then, and remains today, voluntary. He went on to say that there is demonstrable harm done by climate science denial. “I believe,” he remarked, “that against ignorance, we have education. Against inequalities, development. Against cynicism, trust and good faith. Against fanaticism, culture. Against disease, medicine. Against the threats to the planet, science.” Macron went on to say that he views climate change as both an environmental and security threat.
“Some people think that securing current industries and their jobs is more urgent than transforming our economies to meet the global challenge of climate change ... But we must find a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy. Because what is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet or sacrifice the future of our children? What is the meaning of our life if our decision, our conscious decision, is to reduce the opportunities of our children and our grandchildren? By polluting the oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions, and destroying our biodiversity, we are killing our planet. Let us face it. There is no planet B.”
Macron also touched on “fake news,” meaning news created by mendacious, manipulative trolls that poses a threat to democracies worldwide. In contrast, Trump has used the term “fake news” maliciously, while denigrating the media for stories he arbitrarily doesn’t like.
“Without reason,” Macron said, “without truth, there is no real democracy, because democracy is about true choices and rational decisions. The corruption of information is an attempt to corrode the very spirit of our democracies.”
And regarding extreme, xenophobic anti-immigrant nationalism (implicitly referring to the wall and the Muslim ban), Macron stated, “We can choose isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism…. It can be tempting to us as a temporary relief to our fears. But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but enflame the fears of our citizens ... We have to keep our eyes wide open.”
Above all, however, from the first moment Macron and his wife stepped out of that black limo at the White House for what would be an elaborate state visit with its accompanying pomp, it was clear that the President of France had come to convince Donald Trump that the Iran Nuclear Deal should be expanded and extended, perhaps, but not broken. He emphasized that France (along with the members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany and the European Union) had signed the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and he emphasized, “We must ensure stability and respect sovereignty of the nations, including that one of Iran, which represents a great civilization. Let us not replicate past mistakes in the region. Let us not be naïve on one side. Let us not create new walls ourselves on the other side. There is an existing framework ... France signed it at the initiative of the United States. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that.”
Ultimately, absent this diplomatic framework, the options are unimaginable.
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.