Now it’s personal: What the yellow vests want is Macron on his knees
“Macron get lost!” (Μακρόν χάσου) – reads the graffiti in Paris. Photo: AFP
Ben McPartland firstname.lastname@example.org
@mcpben 5 December 2018: French President Emmanuel Macron has backed down and cancelled fuel tax hikes in a bid to quell the growing violence, but it may not be enough, because the one thing that unites the protesters and the rioters is their hatred of their president.
The French President Emanuel Macron made a move on Tuesday that must have been a painful one for him – he backed down in the face of pressure from the street.
He might have resisted similar pressure from unions, students and train workers over unpopular reforms but the transformation of one of the poshest parts of Paris from luxury shopping quarter to war zone on Saturday appears to have forced the president to crack.
Wisely so, many seem to think, not least the city’s police force.
Macron’s PM Edouard Philippe -pushed to the front line – announced on Tuesday that the planned January hike in fuel taxes – the measure that had sparked the yellow vest movement three weeks ago – would be suspended.
With social media pages suggesting thousands more angry protesters are ready to descend on Paris for more of the same, the French government, Parisians living in the west of the city and police will be desperately hoping the climbdown calms some of the anger.
But it may not.
The protest movement may have began as a gripe against fuel prices but it has spread well beyond that to the point where it is hard to work out exactly what it wants to achieve.
The problem the government and the police have is that the one thing that really unites the disparate group of rioters who caused carnage in Paris at the weekend is their personal hatred of the president. A head of state they disparagingly call the “president of the rich” who yellow vest protesters, and the extremists that have joined their ranks, believe represents only those who live in the kind of areas left devastated by Saturday’s wanton violence. R
Long-hated by the extreme-leftist groups because of his past as a banker and his adherence to the free-market model, detested by the far-right because of his pro-European, globalist beliefs and now hated by many ordinary French people, who see him as arrogant, aloof and unsympathetic to their problems.
The one slogan that has been chanted in Paris by large numbers of protesters wasn’t about fuel taxes or any kind of tax, it was simply “Macron demission” (Macron resign).
Much of the graffiti daubed on the Arc de Triomphe and indeed on town halls and prefectures around France carried the same message as did the banners carried by protesters.
“Macron stop taking us for idiots,” read the banner carried by peaceful protesters on the Champs-Elysées on Saturday afternoon.
That message was echoed by many interviews given by angry protesters to French TV stations. They believe the French president holds them in contempt and blame him personally for the outpouring of anger.
It would be wrong to blame the president for the seeds of the revolt – 50 percent of French voters rejected mainstream or centrist political parties in the first round of last year’s election. Their grievances date a lot longer than his presidency but Macron has become the embodiment of much of their anger and hatred.
In a country that has a long and much talked-about distrust and even contempt of the most wealthy Macron’s previous life as a Rothschild banker was always likely to weigh heavy on his shoulders. For some, Macron is still “the banker” and his past still clouds everything the president does.
But the president hasn’t helped himself once in power.
In an article on the clash between Macron and the yellow vests, Professor Arnaud Mercier from the French Institute of the Press (IFP) pointed to Macron’s loose tongue when talking to the French public or about them.
“Since his election he has broken the thread of confidence on this point by multiplying the little murderous sentences towards the French people who were taken by so many as marks of humiliation towards those who are struggling.”
The president has frequently drawn anger whether it was for calling the French “Gauls resistant to change”, or referring to people as those “who are successful” and “those who are nothing”.
He criticized striking workers at a doomed car plant “for stirring up shit” and suggested they’d be better off looking for a job. He has dismissed opponents to his labour reforms by calling them “the lazy”.
He famously rebuked a schoolboy for calling him “Manu” and told a unemployed gardener he would get a job if he just “crossed the street” with him.
Protesters have used these ill-thought out and clumsy phrases during the recent violent protests to make the president “swallow his words”.
“OK Manu, we’ll cross the street,” read graffiti on Avenue Kleber, which was the scene of violent clashes on Saturday.
“The graffiti on the walls, the slogans written on the yellow vests and the banners testify to a strong desire (among the protesters) for social revenge, a return to sender of these phrases considered insulting,” writes Professor Mercier.
“The situation seems totally blocked, because those offended consider that such phrases are the expression of a class arrogance and they only dream of making him swallow his words.”
“No apology can erase the insult,” said Mercier.
Macron has tried to apologise, accepting “his failure to reconcile the French people with their leaders” and accepted his frank-talking manner might not appeal to all.
And part of Macron’s problem, according to French historian Jean Garrigues, lies with the way modern politicians are consumed “as a product whose obsolescence is programmed.”
“Voters no longer believe in ideologies, they consume and then reject their elected representatives, including the President of the Republic,” he said.
Macron has taken measures to improve the spending power of lower-middle classes by scrapping the taxe d’habitation (council tax) and certain social charges.
But it is his reforming of France’s ISF wealth tax – “a gift to the rich” – that those on streets in Paris remember most as well as his insistence, up until now at east, not to scrap fuel tax hikes aimed at persuading the hard-up French to switch to electric cars.
While it would be wrong to blame Macron – who let’s not forget has only been in power 18 months – for the inequalities and struggles that have fed the violence, the former Rothschild banker has become the focal point of their hatred.
Some politicians and academics also lay the blame squarely at his feet.
Leftist deputy François Ruffin, who famously clashed with Macron in the car park of a whirlpool factory during the election campaign called for Macron to quit before he leaves the country “mad with rage.”
“The pride of the President of the Republic, his deafness, his obstinacy, his lack of concession are a machine of hatred,” said Ruffin, before coming under fire for suggesting the head of state “would end up like Kennedy”.
Such is the hatred that the “yellow vests” may not be easily calmed. While they might not get Macron’s head, they at least want him on his knees.