France declares tweet-war on Donald Trump?

Commentary: The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs decides to mimic the president's tweaking Twitter tactics by editing his new climate change video. Is this just the beginning?

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

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screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Donald Trump is adept, many say, at the art of the Twitter skirmish.

He knows how to create slogans that become hashtags. Think #MAGA and you think Trump and, um, winning.

I wonder, though, whether another western government is about to take him on at his own game and on his own hallowed digital turf. 

After the president said Thursday he was taking the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, French President Emmanuel Macron gave an impassioned speech insisting that the countries in the agreement -- the world, save for North Korean, Syria and Nicaragua -- would "make our planet great again."

Was he taking Trump's most famous hashtag and turning it against him? It seems so. Macron even tweeted the phrase himself.

On Friday, though, there was another tweeted skirmish. The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs took to Twitter to tweak Trump's sales video that explained his decision.

"We've seen the @WhiteHouse video about the #ParisAccord. We disagree -- so we've changed it. #MakeThePlanetGreatAgain," said the ministry. 

Accompanying these words was the Trump climate video, as if it had been corrected by teacher. Sample: where the Trump video was titled "The Paris Accord Is a bad deal for America," the French teacher's version was: "Leaving the Paris accord is a bad deal for America and the world." 

The Trump version says that the agreement "undermines US competitiveness and jobs." The French version adds that many global corporations -- Microsoft included -- don't agree. 

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. I wonder, however, whether this may be just the beginning. A government challenging another government on Twitter feels unprecedented. Other than, of course, Trump himself attacking other governments with glee.

The idea of taking Trump on in the arena in which he feels most comfortable is a classic warfare tactic. Don't go for your opponent's weakness, attack his strength. Many a politician has used that very strategy. It was one championed by famed Republican strategist Karl Rove. 

The French Ministry's tweet has already amassed more than 17,000 retweets and 23,000 likes. It's not quite in Trump's approval territory, but for a first effort it's respectable.

What, then, might we expect next? The French Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

I fancy, however, that it (or another French government arm) might decide to tweet-tweak Trump whenever it can. I fancy the French may take on the same attitude that Macron adopted when first shaking hands with the US president. He knew the president was known for domineering hand-shaking, just as he is for domineering tweeting. So he gritted his teeth and didn't want to back down. He wanted to out-Trump Trump.

"My handshake with him, it's not innocent," Macron said afterwards. His ministry's Twitter foray may not be either. 

The French, I suspect, may have a strategy. It's called war. Twitter war.