Paris is not burning. Or, only a little bit is burning this evening. President Emmanuel Macron flooded the zone with twice as many police as last week. Then, there was the dawn roundup of hundreds of known troublemakers. Kettling the gilets jaunes in the Champs-Élysées was a good way of preventing them from getting up to mischief on the side streets. And there were armored personnel carriers parked at the Arc de Triomphe, should anyone doubt the government’s determination.
Macron may claim to have won this round but, like Pyrrhus, one other such victory would utterly undo him. Whatever he says when he breaks his silence tomorrow, the optics remain terrible. Shops have been looted. Cars are still burning. The television images have been terrible. Motorways are closed and now the farmers are angry again. If in Paris the absolute scale of destruction was less than before, and the number of gilets fewer, Macron has nevertheless met his, er, Waterloo.
The tragedy of this is that Macron’s analysis of what ails France is spot on. This is a country that is 20 years late enacting essential structural reforms. But Macron has been incapable of explaining his project for national renewal. He is almost autistically disconnected from voters. He was elected only because the French are revolted by Marine Le Pen. He won only 20 percent of the votes in the first round. Voters have never really warmed to him and now actively detest him.
Macron will not resign. That’s what prime ministers are for, and Macron is not thought to have warm thoughts about his. Nineteen months into his five-year term, he still commands an enormous majority in the National Assembly and the reins of executive power. His forthcoming caning in European elections won’t change this, but will further degrade his authority in Europe. Ironically, to say the least, Macron rival, deputy Italian prime minister Matteo Salvini, spent the afternoon appearing before tens of thousands of adoring supporters in Rome.
The quintessential non-populist, the darling of bien pensants all over the world, Macron has succeeded only in uniting his country against him. They are fed up with Macron’s grand pronouncements and global jet setting. They want to know why they are being taxed until the pips squeak, why their children can’t get good jobs, why they are stalked by speed cameras, and they don’t know or care what Macron is talking about when he goes on about fiscal union, a European army and the benefits of globalization.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.