SURESNES, France — President Donald Trump looked very much alone in Paris this weekend, isolated from European leaders and longtime U.S. allies as he continued to pursue his “America First” agenda.
He seemed most at ease late Sunday afternoon, on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, as he visited the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial just outside Paris, where the stage and star power were his alone.
There, standing before rows upon rows of simple white crosses with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, he commemorated Americans killed in “The Great War” and paid tribute to the way the U.S. fought alongside European nations.
“Earlier this year, President Macron presented an oak sapling from Belleau Wood as a gift to our nation — an enduring reminder of our friendship sealed in battle,” Trump told the audience, referring to the French president’s state visit in April. “We fought well together. You could not fight better than we fought together.”
He called Suresnes the “highlight” of his trip during his roughly 10-minute speech, and joked to the six World War II veterans in attendance that he hoped “I look like that someday.”
It was the rare moment in Paris, an event where Trump was in control and could try to shine, coming off a weekend in which European leaders rebuked him both implicitly and explicitly. From Macron to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the message seemed clear: Trump is taking the U.S. in a more isolated direction, while former allies band together to reject him.
Before roughly 70 world leaders, Macron, for instance, criticized the nationalist movement that Trump has embraced and made a cornerstone of his two-year-old presidency.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said earlier Sunday at a ceremony in Paris. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying, ‘Our interest first, who cares about the others?’”
Even the optics of that Armistice Day event showed Trump on the outskirts. European leaders took buses to the event and proceeded toward the Arc de Triomphe as church bells rang, while the president and first lady Melania Trump entered once the European leaders had already taken their places on risers. The only person who arrived after Trump was President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who made his own grand entrance.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump arrived after the group of Europeans because of “security protocols.”
The White House’s decision to scrap a planned visit to the Aisne-Marne memorial because of rainy and overcast weather on Saturday caused its own backlash online and in Europe. Aisne-Marne is the burial site of 2,289 veterans. The monument at an adjacent site, Belleau Wood, celebrates U.S. Marines who fought there in a pivotal battle in 1918.
Winston Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames wrote on Twitter: “They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.”
European leaders piled on, too, with Macron posting a photo to social media of him and Merkel clasping hands at Compiègne, the site of the signing of the ceasefire agreement that stopped World War I.
In a late Sunday statement, Sanders said driving out to the Aisne-Marne memorial would have required closing “substantial portions of the Paris roadways … on short notice,” and that Trump didn’t want to “cause that kind of unexpected disruption to the city and its people.”
The two-day trip provided moment after moment of this pattern: Trump holding himself apart from European leaders as they, in turn, refused to abide by his actions and rhetoric. For foreign policy experts, it was a long-anticipated moment in which Macron showed the limits of his like-fest with Trump and sought to assert himself as a strong leader on a continent where the alliances are rapidly shifting.
Later Sunday afternoon, Macron again distanced himself from the American president shortly before Air Force One took off for the U.S.
“I’m a strong believer in cooperation between the different peoples, and I’m a strong believer of the fact that this cooperation is good for everybody, where the nationalists are sometimes much more based on a unilateral approach,” Macron said during a CNN interview, one coda to the weekend.