Sometimes I wonder why the international press has allowed itself to participate so fully in Emmanuel Macron’s fantasy life, in which he is a figure of “Jupiterian” consequence. “Can our hero save Europe?” they asked.
Now a more urgent question: Can he even save himself?
Macron gave his speech yesterday, addressing the Yellow Vest protests. He tried to flatter and appease them where he could, while promising tough enforcement against law-breakers, and opportunistic agitators. He affected a humble tone, which only enhanced the perception of distance and condescension. He promptly made several U-turns on his supposed reforms, doing so in a way that will almost certainly put France in breach of EU fiscal rules.
His doing so is a boon for Italian populists who want to flout the same rules, for the same reason: They are now fantastically unpopular.
Macron’s speech very likely made his situation worse. A Parisian friend of mine noted that Macron inadvertently gave definition to a protest that had been at least somewhat inchoate. Macron condemned his “own words” for adding to the hurt of French people, such as when he said that French workers were lazy, and that a man confronting him on unemployment had only to cross the street to find a job. Macron seemed to define the stakes. Roughly 20 percent of French people are either in Paris, or at least part of the French elite. And nearly 70 to 80 percent of the country support the Yellow Vests. With Macron’s popularity hovering below 20 percent, you can guess which side he is perceived to be on in this conflict.
In fact it was these jabs that reveal Macron for what he really is, a “populist” of the elites. Someone who channels the aspirations and hatreds of a metropole class against the natives on the periphery, the lazy one’s that disgust them. You only need to add an accent to get “déplorable” en Francais.