President Donald Trump will be alongside his intellectual opposite Emmanuel Macron of France at the Bastille Day parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Friday.

It is a gorgeous affair with pomp and pageantry dedicated to France’s martial traditions and centuries of wars culminating in the most devastating wars in human history.

Parisians dance through the night with fire-fighters and paramedics at “les bals des pompiers” (fire-fighters’ dances) in most sections (arrondissements) of the capital city. People fall in love, have fun and surprisingly few crumble in drunken stupor.

Thus, they celebrate the freeing of prisoners from the dreaded Bastille fortress on July 14, 1789 during the French Revolution.

This year, the parade has added significance because it also celebrates one of the longest periods of peace and prosperity in European history.

Poison gases were used extensively during the First World War and soldiers died by the thousands in trenches partly because of incompetent leaders. World War II saw the summary killing of millions of people just because they were Jews, Gypsies or enemy prisoners.

The US saved France both times from defeat and Trump will have the honor 100 years after World War I of representing Americans who sacrificed for the French and other Europeans.

Some of Trump’s American critics are treating this historic event with a surprise bordering on disdain because they dislike their President, or think he is illegitimate or even mentally unhinged.

But Macron and other Europeans take the event very seriously because many see it as a symbol of Western and European military unity since World War II. The US led the unity through NATO but that may change if Trump degrades the alliance in deed and not just words, as he has done so far.

Macron’s invitation to Trump came very late because the Frenchman like most Europeans was uncertain about this President’s commitment to Europe, other than Britain.

But the recent G20 Summit seems to have reassured him that Trump is not the narrow-minded irrational person that some Americans allege. So, he decided to explore further personal contact by suddenly inviting Trump during a telephone conversation.

Macron hopes that Trump will regain respect for Europeans after seeing the biggest regular military parade in Western Europe. It involves around 8,600 soldiers, including 6,500 on foot, cavalrymen, 350 vehicles, 240 horses and more than 80 planes and helicopters.

About 190 U.S. service members from the three services and American warplanes will also take part.

This year the pageantry will be more imposing than for over two decades because Macron wants to restore regal “Jupiterian” grandeur to the French presidency as an institution.

Many in France have complained that his predecessors Nicholas Sarkozy, a conservative, and Francois Hollande, a socialist, brought it too far down to American style familiarity with the people.

Perhaps Trump, who likes glamour, may start to realize that the US might be the richest and most powerful nation capable of destroying the world or conquering most nations, but France and other Europeans have the wealth of resilience and checkered histories.

France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Holland and Portugal may be small or middling economic and military powers that could never win an all-out war against Russia or China, individually or collectively.

But they, as well Russians and Chinese, have survived, rebuilt and prospered through centuries of destruction and wars. Their pride as civilizations is profound and is unconnected to American leadership of the West before, during or after Trump.

Macron and Trump are poles apart as personalities. The Frenchman is an earnest 39-year-old determined to restore France to greatness within a united Europe.

Trump is a doughty 71-year-old entrepreneur who thinks his country is exceptional and does not see why Americans should put more into Europe than Europeans put into the US.

French foreign policy has always been independent from Washington to the point of being annoying. It will become even more self-willed since most people in France and Germany do not see Trump as a leader who deserves to be followed yet.

However, some of Macron’s domestic problems are not too distant from those of Trump. He must find ways to create more jobs, prevent companies from outsourcing or sending jobs abroad and protect his national economy against erosion by imports. He must also place tougher controls on immigrants who snatch away local jobs by working for less pay or scoop up too much social welfare money.

The one area where Macron and Trump agree completely is the need for pitiless combat against terrorism but Macron opposes Trump’s tendency to speak as if the Muslim religion engenders terrorists. He also differs on some aspects of how to handle Russian assertiveness in Ukraine, Europe, Syria and the Middle East.

Perhaps, Bastille Day will ignite enough chemistry for them to work together for the common good. Macron strongly supports European and transatlantic unity in security and many other areas.

But Trump wants Europeans to treat Americans fairly by sharing financial and other burdens especially on security matters. Such gaps in starting points should not be insurmountable despite their differing personalities.

Brij Khindaria, Foreign Affairs Columnist
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