Quick Rundown: The “Yellow Shirts”

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Quick Rundown: The “Yellow Shirts”

Ryan Smith

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Any American who tunes into the nightly news could not be faulted for thinking that President Trump is likely the most embattled president in the Western world, being at the center of an investigation, the target of an obstructionist congress, and the subject of almost daily controversy. They would however be mistaken, for Emmanuel Macron, the President of the US’s closest ally, the Republic France, is facing an approval rating of about 23% as of December 7th (compared to Trump’s 45%), and the “Gilets Jaunes” or “Yellow Shirts” are why.

Macron won the French Presidential election on May 7, 2017 running as a centrist from the “En Marche!” party, beating out the “far right” Marine Le Pen from the National Front. Macron won in large part due to a variety of reasons that were very much out of his control, including the decision by former French president Francois Hollande to not seek another term, the nepotism scandal that ruined the chances of Republican Francois Fillon, and the unpopularity of his final opponent in the second round of elections, Marine Le Pen, whom France at the time considered to be much too nationalistic. His victory was hailed as a rebuke to the rise of nationalist/populist politics in the West, however it was not necessarily a victor for progressives, as Macron, a millionaire banker, is very pro business and has unconventional views on immigration.

Macron began his term with high praise not only from the political world but also form his people, with over 60% approval. The French people saw him as young, savvy, and liked his stances on negotiating labor relations, addressing terrorism policy, and fixing the migration system. However, slowly but surely his lack of follow through caught up with him in the polls, as well as his perceived dissociation with the life of the average French person, and most recently his proposed fuel tax.

Running partly on environmentalism, Macron proposed a tax on petroleum which would raise the price even higher than the already bloated price of about $6.50 in France, and one that would increase periodically, in early December. The outrage was spectacular, prompting raucous protests in Paris as well as around France, made up of a movement called the ​Gilet Jaunes ​or “Yellow Shirts” named so because of their adoption of the fluorescent vest that is mandatory to be kept in each car under French law, as their symbol.

The movement is only anti-environmental in so far as it is opposed to the the tax, which it is extremely so. The movement has also spoken to a larger sentiment that Macron is the “president of the rich”, judging by his perceived arrogance and condescension regarding the working class as well as policies of his such as his repealment and replacement of the ISF, a group of policies intended to fairly tax the rich. Next the group falls along two ideological lines which occasionally intersect, with a left-wing contingent calling for wealth redistribution and a higher minimum wage, and a right wing contingent calling for immigration reform and criticizing Macron’s pro-globalist and pro-EU stance. In the cities they have burned cars, dumped a literal load of feces on a government building, and even tossed an egg at the president’s head during a live interview. In the country they gather at rotary’s and protest.

The movement is also exceptional among France’s long history of civil unrest and protest for it has even spread to France’s overseas territories, and even outside of France. Around the world the right wing has praised what it interprets as strike back against globalism while the left praise what they see as an exercise for progressivism, with only Macron’s own government criticising the movement as violent and nationalistic. They seem to have been successful so far, influencing the president to drop the policy which his own Prime Minister has referred to as “[dangerous] to French unity”, and even prompted a badly received apology address form the president, which many have criticized for being uninspiring and out of touch (being given from behind a literal golden desk).

It is up to the Gilet Jaunes themselves, however, to decide what they will be, and for their own sake they should soon as their approaching real political power in the form of having representatives in legislative bodies all across the country at a time when their main unifying point, opposition to the fuel tax, has been nullified by the president’s recent abandonment of the policy and embracement of a national debate on how to save the environment without overburdening the French people.