Change of World Order: Macron's English in American Congress

7 minutes to read
eva veeneman

Before the tumultuous G6+1 summit in Toronto last month, where leaders of the seven most industrialized nations met to support international cooperation, French president Emmanuel Macron visited Washington, D.C.  During this state visit, he was warmly welcomed to the White House, despite having viewpoints that differ from those of president Trump. Pictures, however, showed otherwise; Trump and Macron walking ‘mano a mano’, planting a tree and kissing cheeks as part of Macron's French charm offensive. In Congress, Macron presented himself as a strong and trustworthy president of France, leader of Europe and a concerned global citizen. Is expressing himself well in English proof of his ambition to be seen as a world leader?

Macron's presidential address

April 25, 2018 Macron was given the opportunity to address Congress. I watched the long speech and noticed a dramatic change of language policy: the language of the French Republic had shifted  from French to English and by this transformation Macron represented not only France, but the whole of Europe, and even the whole planet as a truly uniting leader. 

In Congress the language of the French Republic had changed from French into English and by this transformation Macron represented not only France, but also Europe, and even the whole planet

He was introduced by Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives as ‘His Excellency, the President of the French Republic, E-manual Makrone', downplaying Macron’s enthusiastic welcome.  Macron’s opening sentences were in clear English, whereas later some words invoked Franglais, English with a strong French accent. He recovered, relaxed his body language and started to look around, making gestures to support his words and prove his resilience and determination. He made some funny remarks - hinting to a kiss on both cheeks, saying that this reminded him of something happening earlier, namely greeting Trump - that made the audience laugh and cheer. 

He was again serious when he said that the American and French people have a rendez-vous with freedom. And he was very serious when he, on behalf of France, thanked the Americans and said he bowed to their courage and devotion. He did not really take a bow, he used it to appeal to a sensory feeling in his audience. He practised NLP, neurolinguistic programming to communicate effectively, appealing to look, listen, taste, smell, feel. This originally American approach to communication, from the 1970's, gives a speaker a set of techniques that help putting an audience into a certain frame of mind. Macron planted pride in the heads of his listeners to get their full attention to his presence and to be seen as courageous and devoted, too.

Pathos, logos, ethos

Macron continued, also using Aristotle’s powers of persuasion: pathos, logos and ethos. Pathos is an appeal to the emotions of an audience. It elicits feelings that already reside in the audience. Macron confessed he personally does not share the fascination for new strong powers and the illusion of nationalism. He emphasized the need of common answers to strengthen “our collaboration” and that the US is the country to preserve multilateralism that does not outshine national culture. 

“Why?” Macron asked, immediately answering his own question, as if he heard it coming from his audience: “Because our culture is based on the taste of freedom on both sides of the Atlantic,” appealing to cooperation in foreign policy between the nations. He used the word ‘taste’ to appeal to the gustatory sense, to get his message across figuratively, the same way he took the imaginary bow and answered his own question, as if he had heard someone asking it. 

He said he believed there are answers to the threats that face us - answers like science, referring to reasoning and facts: logos. He spoke in a fatherly way of the issues between the US and France as things that happen in families, reframing international tensions as homely quarrels that get solved in a loving environment, and comparing countries to family members, meaning to convey a feeling of warmth. 

Lastly ethos, the shared beliefs and ideals: Macron discussed various issues to show what culture brings, how much both countries have in common, as a “shared journey” on the planet. Republicans and Democrats alike gave standing ovations as if to discard their polarized politics.

A critical response

Chairman and Republican Paul Ryan communicated through Twitter that he had invited Macron to the United States Capitol to address Congress. One of his followers, Bloodhound@Mimi in Fort Worth, Texas, notably a French inspired restaurant, responded critically, urging Ryan to give the American people what they want instead of 'a man that turned his country into Open Boarders/New World Order'. 


Tweets by Ryan and Bloodhound

Bloodhound speaks of France as a country that Macron has turned into a nation with "Open Boarders" [sic] that is part of a "New World Order". Usually, Europe is considered the Old World and America the New World. Is Bloodhound referring to it the other way around here: America as the conservative country representing the positively evaluated Old World and Europe as the innovative 'country' representing the negatively evaluated New World with its open borders? Not really, this is not about the old world and the new world, but about the New World Order. It is about the globalising world and mass immigration that has characterized the world since the Soviet collapse. 

Why would the American People be interested in that, Bloodhound implicitly asks. Why is this man invited to address Congress? Is Bloodhound a Republican or a Democrat? In mentioning giving the American People what they want, Bloodhound seems to allude to the ancient Roman Empire, where the people were given bread and circus to entertain them and take away any critical attention for daily reality. He means that Ryan distracts the people from the real issues and just promotes open borders and international cooperation. He writes "this is not what the people want", a populist frame as he does not like the smell of a global, cosmopolitan policy; he wants "America First". Bloodhound must be a Republican, an Alt-Right Republican, urging Paul Ryan, who is not considered 'Trumpian' and thus not a legitimate exporter of Trump's policies, to give the people what they want. Closed borders, a wall even. Trump's policy is isolationalist, remaining apart from the affairs or interests of other groups. 

Inspiration for Congress?

Apparently, Macron was already expected to give a different - cosmopolitan - perspective on the world. Could that be the inspirational input Congress needed to influence Trump? For the Iranian accord it did not turn out the way Macron had hoped for: Trump withdrew from the agreement, even urging European countries to sanction Iran, simultaneously proving himself and the US an unreliable partner to Iran and Europe. And exactly that was what Macron marked in his address: he put himself and Europe forward as a trustworthy and equal partner. He used both his communication skills and all Aristotle’s powers of persuasion, figurative speech and personal charm, to make the members of Congress listen to him, in the lion’s den, where he explained his view of the world. And when in Rome, do as the Romans do, i.e., when in Congress, speak English. Macron's eloquence represented the agile spirit of a world leader.

Macron used all Aristotle’s powers of persuasion, his figurative speech and his personal charm to make the members of Congress listen to him, in the lion’s den, where he explained his view on the world

English as a nouveauté

It may look like Macron speaking English in Congress is a sign of weakness, of adapting to American custom and disrespecting the “French only” language policy of his own country. When the French republic is represented, it should be in French, the language of the republic. Since Macron presents himself as a global leader, he speaks English on appropriate occasions, a nouveauté for France. He argues that it is important to demonstrate that French and English coexist as major international languages, supporting French as lingua franca in Africa. On social media he regularly posts in English reaching out to non-francophone followers. On internet fora, French conservatives question the degree of Macron's Frenchness while some see his proficiency in English as a good quality.

Since Macron presents himself as a global leader, he speaks English on appropriate occasions

Macron’s persuasion of Congress worked: he spoke like a true global leader, showing that Europe is indeed new, and stronger than America may think, evoking issues related to the shared values of freedom and democracy. By many, his speech was perceived as truly presidential. To emphasize his ethos, he used ‘I believe’ and ‘I want’ and ‘my position’, meaning I as president, as leader of the world, and he used positive terms and joint goals, whereas Trumps speaks of 'we' and 'the US' negatively framed, e.g., "the US will not be a migrant camp" to convey an isolationist point of view in most of his public lectures and tweets. Macron concluded his speech in French, showing his courage and dedication, pouring out his charm: vive les Etats-Unis d’Amérique, vive La France, vive notre amitié, which made Congress roar in sympathy. To be a leader of the world, it is best to be understood in the language of the world: English. To be the president of France, use the French language. To be able to be both president of France and a world leader: use both French and English, and adapt the nation’s language policy to fit its president’s ambitions.