Old Alliance

(Walt Girdner/Walt Girdner Studio)

Something journalist David Axelrod said on CNN has stuck with me. He was talking about Emanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, and he said something like, “These young guys have figured out how to game the president.”

I was watching the French phenom Macron, who created his own party, ran his own candidates, swept into power with a big majority and who still looks like a French over-achieving student, hold a press conference with our president.

I watched it from beginning to end and neither said too much specific in answer to the questions from journalists, which were each many questions lumped into one. But they both sounded like they were answering the questions and they both looked competent and presidential.

Trump made up a few things, based on what “somebody said,” but overall he came across as affable and somewhat reasonable. Macron seemed quick and comfortable, switching easily into fluent English to answer a question from an American reporter.

But basically they appeared to be getting along famously and Trump was not his stiff, bulldog-expression self. He seemed to succumb to some French charm.

A fair amount was made of his remark to the French first lady about being in shape, but I took that as the guy trying to make some small talk.

And watching the two first ladies walk with their husbands, I was struck by the contrast in their styles. Melania wears what I would call big designer dresses, beautiful, impressive, expensive, perfect, while Brigitte was edgier, wearing a zippered, form-fitting top and a fairly short skirt, looking like a cool Parisienne.

My girlfriend described her as “chique,” and it was the perfect word for her style.

The big show of the 14th of July was a more masculine event, a military parade, and both the words and the images reminded me of an old alliance that in essence is part of me. My father fought in France in World War II and my mother was a Parisienne in occupied France.

For so long, the French people seemed to have a special fondness for Americans, certainly laced with plenty of criticism for our policies. While we kept in our minds the early school lessons about Lafayette and the French help given to our revolution.

But that seemed to fade in recent decades, particularly with George W. Bush and the sneering Republican criticism of French opposition to the invasion of Iraq, encapsulated in the Republican house administration chairman’s decision to change an erstwhile congressional menu item to “freedom fries.”

So it was odd to see this sort of summer of love erupt between the French and the American administrations, but it also felt profoundly right to me. They did sacrifice for us in our moment of need and we sacrificed for them in theirs.

It also felt right because the American landing in France and the subsequent charge toward Berlin were like a dim background noise in my youth, as very rarely my dad would tell a story tied to that campaign. One was about riding on a tank on its way toward Germany, and seeing German planes, parked next to the French highway, grounded for lack of fuel.

And in the war’s aftermath, my mom saw America as a golden land, an opinion that faded as time went along. But she had her family here, so she stayed.

Through her nationality, I was a dual citizen, French as well as American, and thus tied to the succeeding waves of immigrants that have come to our land.

So it was that precisely on the 14th of July, I received an email from the French consulate saying my French passport had been renewed. That night I watched the Tour de France as the peloton wound its way through the lush French countryside.

And while knowing that I am an American, I was, as never before, grateful to my parents for having given me a foothold on the old continent.

(Walt Girdner/Walt Girdner Studio)
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