PARIS — The violence committed in Paris and other French cities on Saturday is, in every meaning of the word, unspeakable. The destruction, pillaging and assault against those charged with maintaining order must be condemned without reserve, because they are without excuse. There are no words to give meaning or direction to the flood of rage and hatred that spilled for hours across the posh neighborhoods of the capital.
The undeniable radicalization of part of the gilets jaunes ("yellow vests") that prevents clear distinction between protesters and thugs, has gotten worse, with the arrival of elements from the extreme right and extreme left. This day of insurrection, unlike anything seen in France since 1968, is as hard to describe as it is to seize for leaders of the opposition, who have all struggled to appropriate this elusive political moment.
In fact, one common denominator emerges from the disorder: the target, the President of the Republic. In a year and a half, Emmanuel Macron’s term has reached its breaking point, his initial momentum caught up in two different movements that have hindered him since his election.
First, a crisis with deep roots, of which he is only very partially accountable: a calling into question of 30 years of the political system and its representation, which adds a powerlessness of 10 years to truly responds to the consequences of the 2008 economic crisis. For the yellow vests, composed of representatives from the middle and lower classes and living principally in rural areas and middle-class cities, this failure of successive governments has allowed anger to prosper under the most powerful of ferments: the feeling of injustice, whether linked to geography, taxes or social status.
Violence arrived at the Arc de Triomphe — Photo: Li Genxing/Xinhua/ZUMA
The next failure comes in the face of the instantaneous nature of social networks: On Facebook mainly, the speed has allowed for the mobilization of “yellow vests” in a form of engagement that is completely unprecedented at this scale. But it is also at the origin of this Brownian motion that triggers a permanent instability among the protestors, where the vindications accumulate and end by canceling each other out through contradiction, where spokespeople are delegitimized the second they appear, and where permanent discussion does not allow understanding one another or listening to what the leading parties might propose.
It’s even more complicated in the face of a chief executive unable to remove himself from the multiple disruptions he had theorized to create his new world. In fact, in light of the current crisis, all the principles that made Macron’s candidacy successful have returned to show the fragility of his presidency.
Arrogance has landed him in the current trap.
The questioning of intermediary institutions, systematically bypassed since the beginning of Macron’s term, is a major handicap — as they would now be crucial to help confine a social conflict of this type. The advertised modernity has been transformed into an incapacity to understand the new forms of expression and mobilization of an unprecedented movement. Macron's king-like posture has been reduced to a more and more visible inaptitude to obtain concrete results in maintaining order. The courageous reformer has become the "president of the rich," having given key tax breaks to the well-off.
A continued mix of arrogance and verbal provocation have landed him in the current trap. It will be difficult to get out of it without deeply change his mode of governance that has, for the moment, done nothing to reverse the harmful cycle of disdain for the last several presidents. This is is the most demanding reform of all: It must begin with yourself, if you want to be able to convince others.
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