Diesel moves France. Whereas in the United States, diesel is increasingly a rarity, used mainly to fuel heavy trucks, drivers in France and much of Europe, have diesel cars. In past generations, diesel was believed to be more environmentally friendly. It turns out, today, that that is not the case. Diesel is actually far worse for the environment that traditional gasoline.
This weekend, anger over a 6% increase on diesel taxes led to the largest and most violent protests France has seen since the 1960s. The “gilets jaunes” (or yellow vests in English) are so named because they don reflective bright yellow-colored vests, that all French motorists are required to have in their vehicles, when they take to the streets.
In Paris, radical far-right and far-left wing movements are alleged to have infiltrated the protests, unleashing anarchy chaos and mass destruction in the French capital. They torched dozens of cars, ransacked and looted hundreds of private businesses, and destroyed both public and private property. Even the famed landmark the Arc de Triomphe was damaged.
French President Emmanuel Macron was in Buenos Aires over the weekend for the G20 summit, and the mass protests came as most unwelcome news, as he seeks to resurrect his plummeting approval ratings.
But what, precisely, do the gilets jaunes want?
As I walked the streets of Bordeaux this weekend, amidst tear gas canisters, bright red flares, and ear-drum shattering chanting, the answer remained elusive. Elusive, and certainly ideologically contradictory.
Macron’s hefty diesel tax has a specific purpose that is very much in tradition with the global technocratic elites: fighting global warming. For France’s long-suffering taxpayers, however, the environmental pretext is just another cock and bull story.
After several discussions with protesters, it appears that they have no leader, and are neither enthused by the traditional right or left paradigm. They express disdain for far-left insurgent Jean-Luc Melanchon, and for the economic nationalism of Marine LePen and the National Front.
Mixed amongst the protesters, one could see a healthy dose of Communists and socialists. Never ideological extremists that would allow a good chance for a protest to go to waste, they were there in full force, waving traditional red and yellow “hammer and sickle” Communist flags, and shouting anti-capitalist slogans.
The irony was apparently lost on them: the European Left, which Macron is appeasing by introducing the global warming tax, has been a strong proponent of making energy more expensive for consumers. That includes the support of Communist and socialist parties in national governments and the European Parliament. How exactly is it…that they are there to protest this new global warming tax when their ideological brethren who actually have political power, are the very people that have brought them there to the streets in the first place?
Fundamentally, global warming was of little concern to the angry French people on the streets. It is basic pocketbook issues, not global considerations, that generally “roil the body politic” as Hillary Clinton recently phrased it.
Every French man and woman I talked to shared a basic fundamental view: the Macron government is out of touch. Taxes are too high and they are only going higher. The quality of life is falling. Salaries are not keeping up with expenses.
That is their slogan. That is their battle cry. Global warming be damned.
Macron is hardly a terrible president. Compared with some of his contemporaries, he looks downright fantastic as a business-friendly centrist who famously reassured the French public that he was “not a socialist” on the campaign trail.
(Good thinking, Macron…as the Socialist Party’s hapless candidate ended up with a measly 5.9% of the vote).
Macron has plenty of time to right the ship and resurrect his popularity, and the violent nature of this weekend in Paris and other cities may help him do just that.
But Macron pushes forward the global warming elitist agenda, now, at his own peril. French voters really do not care about global warming. They want lower prices for the precious fuel that forms the foundation of the French economy and provides them with transportation: to work, to school, to the supermarket, to church. If Macron fails to see that, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.