Our Enduring Fraternity

Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown by John Trumbull

President Trump recently visited France and complimented the French First Lady on her looks. Instead, he might have said:

President Macron,

Thank you so much for your invitation. It is, of course, a great honor for me to be here in the capital of America’s oldest ally.

You know, it occurred to me as I was flying over here that the friendship that exists between the United States and France really is remarkable. We have never stood across the battle lines from one another. Instead, we have always stood together, shoulder to shoulder. When we needed you eleven score and sixteen years ago, you were there. Almost a century and a half later, when the occasion arose for us to repay the debt that we owed the nation of Lafayette, we did so. And we united again less than thirty years after that to restore France to its rightful place of prominence in the world as we and our allies swept the agents of tyranny and fascism from the European continent, we hope, for ever.

It must be said, though, that even though we’ve never raised arms against one another, we haven’t always gotten perfectly along. We have from time to time quarreled, which is the mark, I believe, of a true friendship. After all, friends only try to persuade those they truly care about.

When we invaded Iraq, for example, France didn’t like it, and told us so. We, in return, acted childishly. Instead of appreciating the criticism for what it was: the concern of a loyal ally who has supported us throughout our history, we scoffed at France and sat insulted in a lonely corner eating our freedom fries. I want to apologize for that.

I feel that I can apologize because I am not someone who believes that the actions of our forebears are immune from criticism simply because they may no longer be here to defend themselves. On the contrary, when one assumes the mantle of public office one also assumes the burden of being judged for one’s official conduct even after one leaves public office, for it is true that the evil that men do lives after them. If we act in ways that will affect posterity, we must also expect posterity to judge us for how we acted.

As such, I do believe that I have the authority to apologize for the juvenile and uncharitable way that the people of the United States behaved toward the people of France not so long ago and, in this instance, I further believe that it is my duty to do so. I am grateful to the people of France for being more magnanimous and mature than the people of my country can sometimes be, as is evidenced by the grace that you have shown my fellow Americans by inviting me to be their representative at these events here today. Thank you.

That being said, I want to put our disagreements behind us and focus on the remarkable things that our two great nations have done for one other these last two hundred and fifty-odd years. You saved our revolution, which then went on to inspire yours. It was a Frenchman who was among the first to come to America and observe our democracy, and who then wrote a luminous book explaining it to us better than we understood it ourselves. When tired immigrants came to our shores hopeful that the blessings of liberty and equality for which every human being yearns would finally be allowed to them, it was a gift from the French that welcomed them and that consecrated the promise of my nation that the United States would indeed be a land in which they could grow the gardens of their dreams.

But that statue continues to consecrate something else as well. It consecrates the spirit of fraternity that has always existed between the French and the American people. It is physical proof of what every American has always known: that if we can count on anything, we can count on France. It is my sincere hope that the people of France know and believe the same of us. It has always been so. May it always be so.

Vive la alliance et vive la France!

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