When French President Emmanuel Macron greeted President Trump in Paris on Thursday, their handshake was warm and heartfelt. Their awkward first handshake is behind them, and they have much in common.
Both leaders are fairly new to politics. Their greatest qualifications are their business success, charisma and their belief in speaking truth to power.
Both men ran on populist promises of a better future and bypassed party regulars, instead appealing directly to voters. They blew up the major parties and rewrote the political playbook.
But now the two leaders need each other.
Both Macron and Trump need big political wins — and they can help each other get them. They can reinforce each other’s value and messages.
They both realize their popularity also requires real action. Macron has focused France on entrepreneurship and innovation. In fact, during the past three years he was a visible presence at four of our CES® innovation-focused events, two in Paris and two in Las Vegas. He has invited innovators and scientists to settle in France and recently helped open a startup incubator in the heart of Paris. Meanwhile, Trump has been cutting red tape and burdensome rules while encouraging businesses to hire more American workers. However, their shared passion for business transcends economic growth and profits: They both know that successful companies create jobs and wealth and raise the standard of living.
Most importantly, however, both recognize that there’s much at stake today. Trump and Macron may see the need for a bigger alliance based on rapidly changing geopolitics splitting the world into two spheres. On the one hand is the ideal of democracy: citizens having rights, choosing their religion, expressing themselves freely, and voting for their leaders in free elections. On the other is the totalitarianism of the one-party state that restricts citizens’ choice of religion and their ability to share their ideas, access information, and choose their government officials.
The world is dividing. China is strong and ascending. Its Belt and Road Initiative attracted 68 countries, including Russia. These countries are eager for Chinese investment and support and seem unconcerned about China exporting jobs, and repressing politics, extracting profits and rare minerals, and promoting the renminbi as a currency alternative to the dollar.
With other democracies complacent or stuck on the notion that the U.S. alone will preserve freedom, France is the only major democracy working constructively with the U.S. to prove that freedom and economic strength can complement one another.
When our men in uniform help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of our cooperation with France in World War I by marching in uniform alongside the French military, it will be an extraordinary visual spectacle. It is also an opportunity to remind both President Trump and President Macron of the value of working together to promote democracy not only in word but also in spirit, principle, and persuasion. It will also emphasize to both leaders — both visually and emotionally — the value of our military working side-by-side to ensure a world where the spirit of liberty and freedom can be a binding, transnational ideal.
Trump and Macron need each other because Trump needs a strong partner as the U.S. will no longer carry global burdens alone. Luckily, Macron needs a defining vision of optimism and strength for France to realize concrete results for its moribund economy. A strong relationship with the U.S. could bolster France’s positive shift to optimism, changes in inflexible labor laws, and reinforce a focus on the promise of innovation and entrepreneurship.
This meeting is also an opportunity for our two countries to partner and fight terrorism in a way that doesn’t stifle freedom of expression online and protects our citizens.
Last week, in a clear and thoughtful speech in Warsaw, President Trump articulated why NATO encompasses the values of “a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations” and “is the best defense for our freedoms.” He declared, “Our freedom, our civilization and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture and memory.” The U.S. economy is the world’s largest. France’s economy is the sixth largest. Our shared “history, culture and memory” is centered on freedom and democracy.
Our new leaders share a love of democracy, a sense of urgency, a mandate for change, and a desire to leave their nation better for their children. Both have the ability to join forces to save democracy and freedom.
They can help each other by visibly strengthening the U.S-French alliance, renewing their commitment to democracy and individual freedom, and exploring joint initiatives in our common defense. They can emphasize our mutual focus on innovation as an economic engine and our shared cultural values. Let’s hope they seize the opportunity to become the Reagan and Thatcher of our time.