Macron’s first instinct, after the uprising Saturday, was to go around getting photographed shaking hands with the cops. He of course cold shouldered anybody looking like a gilet jaune – such bad taste! Why, if only they had a good tailor maybe they would be part of the “dialogue”.
Melanchon, at least, did not spend a lot of time patting the boys in blue on the back. Nor decrying the tagging of the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, and the generation of 1968 that is now retired, spent a lot of time patting themselves on the back this year. Those 68 days – weren’t they the cards! And those wonderfully witty graffiti slogans: under the street is a beach, for instance.
Under the street, as we’ve learned since, there’s more street. I much prefer the tag left Saturday on the Arc de Triomphe that reads, simply: Fin de régime.
Not that I believe that such things are accomplished in a weekend. If Macron actually did, by some miracle, fall, he’d be replaced by another suit. The suits have had a good fifty years since 1968. The rest, not so much. Inequality has skyrocketed, and finally, the people in “deep France” – or the people who work in your shops and restaurants and call you up for debts and drive the trucks that get you your goods – have watched their time for “living”, as opposed to making a living, shrink. Along with their services. The faux “eco” president has fed the inflation of housing prices in major cities and raised taxes on those who can least afford them – and who now have to commute on an increasingly ill funded mass transportation system, or in a car, to get to work. As Jeremy Harding, in a good article in the London Review put it:
“Macron has embarked on an admirable policy to mitigate climate change but he’s failed catastrophically to heed the advice of his former environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, who resigned in August. Hulot said the project would only work with grants, attainable tax incentives and green job creation for less advantaged sectors of the population. Not nearly enough of this is in place, or even in the offing. Meanwhile the people now blocking the roads in France have been left to suck up the blame for climate change. But there are few Jeremy Clarksons among them – the motorheads are mostly the ones who try to power their way through a go-slow – and no gilets jaunes I’ve talked to can afford to trade their elderly diesel vehicles for low-emissions alternatives, even with the subsidies announced in January, which are aimed at more prosperous classes and the car industry.
A recent survey carried out for the European Commission finds that transport is still the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, and that ‘rural living’ raises the per capita footprint significantly outside the cities. Nevertheless the decisive factor across urban and rural communities alike is how much money we have: the wealthier we are, the larger our footprint, by anywhere from 150 to 450 kg per person per additional €1000 in earnings. This is why wilderness-free Luxemburg has one of the highest carbon footprints in the EU and countries in the former eastern bloc – notably Romania and Hungary – have the lowest. It is inconceivable that Macron, a technocrat and number-cruncher before his entry into politics, is ignorant of these conclusions and similar findings in other climate-change studies. Why has he chosen to comply with the caricature put about by his enemies: Macron, ‘president of the rich’? Probably because he is. But shouldn’t he be bluffing by now? Even just a bit?”
(Thanks Tom for the reference!)
I don’t think Macron is as aware of the numbers as Harding claims – the ignorance of economists when their ideology puts out its hand and says halt as they are looking at “figures” is a perpetual source of merriment and mockery to the rest of us.
But I do believe what can’t go on won’t continue to go on. The worsening degradation of the planet and the worsening inequality within the planet’s economies aren’t simply parallel: they are convergent forces, one feeding on the other. This was brought home by another image of the weekend: the “eco” President did some grandstanding at the G20 summit when he was filmed talking to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the murderer and genocidaire, in a cutout that wasn’t even sham brilliant. Macron warned the Prince that “European” investigators were going to be on the case of the Khashoggi murder. The Prince, the implication being, should be shakin in his keffiyeh. But the other message was: we are going to investigate, that is delay, until everybody forgets what we are investigating and then we’ll sell you another cool billion euros of French armaments. Cause everybody loves a willing customer! The word Yemen didn’t cross Jupiter Jr.’s lips. So much for ecology, morality, or Macron’s playacting.
In the larger view, the regime we have lived under, in spite of communism, the New Deal, and the Trente glorieuse, is the regime of the Whigs. Lord Macaulay, a Whig’s Whig, noted in his History of England that there is a close connection between the increase of a state’s collective wealth and the decrease of the people’s will to revolt. Where in the 15th, 16th and 17th century, six of nine kings were forcibly deposed, since the ascension of King William to the nineteenth century, none were. Macaulay does not claim this as proof of the growing moral standing of kings, but rather as a fact showing that the populace had more and more to lose if it tried to get rid of its establishment.
Indeed, for all the shock images of gilets jaunes distributed in the papers, remarkably little violence in France has occurred in the 21st century as both rightwing governments and socialist ones have peaceably shrunk the life styles of the majority of the population and rewarded their friends in the upper class with a bounty that would have put Louis XV to shame. Pillaging the estates of the wealthy seems out of bounds at the moment.
The regime is in us. Even in times of emergency, the population in Western countries is domesticated to an unparalleled degree. Michael Lewis, in a long article written in the aftermath of Katerina, found that in his neighborhood in New Orleans on Magazine, during the aftermath of the storm when, supposedly, “looting” was common, the giant Whole Foods was entirely unlocked – and untouched. Even desperation did not drive people to take the property of the corporation into their own hands. This is touching, especially as we well know, since 2008, that the same ethical scruples do not operate on the top level – indeed, the regime of immunity there makes every day a moral hazard. The suits are only shocked if the unwashed lay a hand on national monuments. They give themselves, of course, leaway to tear them down and turn them into parking lots if it makes them an extra penny.
There is another gilets jaunes demonstration scheduled, I believe, for next Saturday. Here’s my suggestion of taggers: spraypaint MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN on the Arc. Macron’s a bright boy. He studied under Ricoeur, I’ve heard. He’ll get it.