Here’s a timeline of a relationship on the rocks:
May 2017: The handshake
This was when Trump and Macron first met, at a NATO gathering in Brussels. Shortly after Macron’s election earlier that month, it was the young French president’s formal introduction to his counterparts from around the North Atlantic world. And his handshake with Trump was a notable event, the one that stole the headlines. The two leaders were locked in a lengthy awkward grip. As The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker wrote at the time: “The two men shook hands for six long seconds. Their knuckles turned white, their jaws clenched and their faces tightened. Trump reached in first, but then he tried to release, twice, but Macron kept his grip until letting go.”
June 2017: The needling period
Standing in the rose garden of the White House, Trump announced that he would be withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, signed by President Barack Obama and nearly every other world leader in December 2015. He justified his decision in terms of his belief in “America First,” saying he was elected to “represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” — remarks that Pittsburgh’s mayor promptly rejected.
Macron, however, poked a little fun at his American counterpart, inviting American climate scientists to continue their research in France and declaring, in perfect English, “Make our planet great again.” It was an obvious play on Trump’s campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.”
July 2017: The honeymoon
Welcome to the height of the honeymoon period.
Trump flew to Paris for Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. This was the height of the honeymoon period. “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that,” Trump declared during a bilateral news conference at the Elysee Palace. “It was a long time ago, but we are together. And I think together, perhaps, more so than ever. The relationship is very good.”
Trump also famously complimented Macron’s wife, Brigitte Macron, on her appearance, telling the French first lady that she was “in such good shape.” Trump and Macron also shared another extended handshake, and Trump adored the military parade on the Champs-Elysees.
April 2018: The moment of truth
During Macron’s state visit to Washington, Trump greeted his guest with lots of physical contact. At the beginning of the encounter, Trump appeared to flick a piece of what he called dandruff off Macron’s pristine lapel, and a joint news conference in the White House East Room was marked by French-style pecking kisses.
But things began to go downhill from there: Despite Macron’s repeated entreaties to preserve the Iran deal, the signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration, Trump ultimately pulled out of the agreement, much to Europe’s chagrin. Macron came back to Paris empty-handed.
November 2018: The beginning of the end?
As Air Force One arrived in Paris, Trump took to Twitter to lambaste Macron for — what Trump said at least — was a plan to create a European army that would protect France from the United States, Russia and China. “Very insulting,” Trump tweeted. In fact, that wasn’t what Macron had proposed, and Trump had taken remarks Macron made during a radio interview earlier in the week out of context, as had several media reports.
The Elysee Palace worked to patch things up as quickly as possible and to show Trump that what Macron said was really a version of what he has been saying all along, which is that Europe needs to take more charge of its own defenses. “I appreciate what you’re saying about burden-sharing,” Trump said Saturday. “We want to help Europe, but it has to be fair. … We want to absolutely be there, we want to help, we want to be a part of it, but different countries have to help.”