Clear symbolism in death of Macron’s gifted tree
By JAMES MCAULEY | The Washington Post | Published: June 13, 2019
The symbolic tree that President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron planted at the White House last year has died, according to French media reports.
The small oak, which came from the historic Belleau Wood to the east of Paris, where American forces halted a German counteroffensive in the waning months of World War I, was a gift from Macron to Trump during his April 2018 state visit.
As Macron wrote on Twitter at the time, the tree “will be a reminder at the White House of these ties that bind us.” Instead, the dead tree can now be seen as a reminder of an amicable relationship that began as “le bromance” and has since become rather antagonistic.
A major turning point in the Macron-Trump relationship came during the same visit when the two presidents gathered with their wives on the White House lawn to plant the tree. Macron had flown across the Atlantic to try to convince Trump not to abandon the Iran deal, a signature policy achievement of the Obama administration.
The French president, who had won in a landslide the year before and who is the youngest head of state in modern French history, clearly believed in his own ability to charm.
Compared with other European leaders, notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron seemed to get along quite well with the mercurial Trump at the time, having delighted him in July 2017 with a massive military parade in Paris that Trump then tried, unsuccessfully, to re-create at home.
So the young French president — who had failed to convince Trump to keep the United States in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords — decided to test his luck on Iran.
Trump clearly relished leading Macron along, but ultimately stood his ground despite Macron’s entreaties. In one memorable scene, Trump flicked what appeared to be a piece of dandruff off of Macron’s lapel in front of White House photographers, an apparent visible reinforcement of the power dynamic at play.
The death of the tree was first reported in France’s Le Monde newspaper last week, during Trump’s visit to the beaches of Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. According to those reports, after it was planted, the tree had to be uprooted and subjected to a normal quarantine period for a plant brought from a foreign country to the United States. But it apparently died during the quarantine period and was never replaced or replanted.
It was during this time that the once close ties between the two men appeared to fray with the most fraught moment in the relationship coming in November 2018, seven months after the tree had been planted.
After Macron — on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I — delivered a rousing speech against the evils of nationalism, Trump arrived back in Washington and unleashed a Tweetstorm against him.
“The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%,” Trump wrote.
“He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!”
All things considered, though, Trump’s recent D-Day visit seemed to go fairly well in terms of relations with Macron.