During his first 15 months in office, President Trump has probably never been treated by members of Congress the way he was this week by French President Emmanuel Macron. The two leaders are wide apart on many issues, from Iran to climate change. Yet that did not prevent Mr. Macron from embracing Mr. Trump the person.
They shook hands, hugged, and even landed kisses on each other. “It’s an honor to call you my friend,” Trump said. Despite their different styles of handshakes, they seem to have a genuine rapport and a relationship that goes beyond the transactional.
Cynics may say that Macron’s public affection is merely a necessary part of statecraft: easy to fake and designed to score victories. Yet history also shows that camaraderie can alter politics and diplomacy. A charity of friendship opens a door for listening, respect, gratitude, trust, and common ground.
It also maintains a distinction between a person and his or her actions, thus avoiding the risk that an embrace might legitimize bad behavior or falsehoods.
The so-called bromance between Macron and Trump stands out in particular because of recent opinion surveys. By nearly 2 to 1, Americans view Trump unfavorably “as a person,” according to an ABC poll in April. Among those who do not like him, 84 percent also disapprove of his job performance. These ratings are nearly as low as those for President Bill Clinton after his impeachment trial.
And in a Gallup poll last month, nearly a third of Americans do not see Trump as a legitimate president. Among those adults, 38 percent said their view was because of Trump as a person while 33 percent said it was the way he won the election. Another 24 percent cited both reasons.
As the United States heads into elections this fall, candidates in both major parties may be tempted to draw sharper lines between themselves and Trump the person, not just Trump’s policies and statements. Yet democracy relies on civility toward those we disagree with. Friendship with a difficult person can help neutralize hate. And it allows people in a shared society to coexist.
“I got to know you, you got to know me,” Macron said during his White House visit. “We both know that none of us easily changes our minds, but we will work together, and we have this ability to listen to one another.”
The Marquis de Lafayette could not have said it better.