France is currently in the grip of widespread protests and riots that have led to violent clashes with police, leaving hundreds injured and thousands of dollars’ worth of property damaged.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump evidently decided it was time for him to weigh in on the protests — by sharing a tweet from Charlie Kirk, a 25-year-old conservative political activist and ardent Trump supporter, with his millions of followers.
There’s one problem, though: Nothing in the tweet is even remotely accurate. The only facts in it are that there are protests in France over fuel taxes and that there are, indeed, streets in the city of Paris.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) December 4, 2018
Media barely mentioning this
America is booming, Europe is burning
They want to cover up the middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism
“We want Trump” being chanted through the streets of Paris
Cutting social welfare benefits and labor protections are not “radical leftist” policies
Kirk — who is not shy about his deep contempt for socialism — writes, “There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes.” Now, the protests are partly about fuel taxes — just not “radical leftist” ones.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a new gas tax earlier this year that will increase the price of fuel by about 30 cents per gallon and will continue to rise over the next few years. (Gas already costs about $7.06 per gallon in France.)
But Macron, a former investment banker, isn’t using the tax to support or expand social welfare benefits — quite the opposite, in fact. It’s part of his broader plan to reform the French economy to make it more pro-business.
He’s been cutting spending to popular, longstanding social welfare programs and has been scaling back labor protections. For instance, he’s made it easier for companies to hire and fire employees and fought unions to end subsidies for certain sectors.
As New York magazine reports:
In May, thousands of high-school students joined unionists and civil servants to protest Macron’s plan to cut 120,000 civil service jobs in addition to a reduction in benefits for France’s railway workers, who are unionized, public-sector employees. Macron’s 2019 budget “includes an €18.8 billion reduction in payroll and other business taxes to encourage hiring and investment,” the Times reported in October. That’s a continuation of tax policies he premiered not long after taking office in 2017; a newly empowered Macron moved swiftly to cut taxes for corporations and for the wealthiest 10 percent of French households.
Last time I checked, ending labor protections, cutting taxes for wealthy corporations, and scaling back social welfare programs are not the policies typically associated with a “radical leftist” agenda, as Kirk phrased it.
The protests are also about Macron’s elitism and perceived disdain for the working class
While the protests may have started over the fuel tax, they have since morphed into a broader indictment of Macron’s handling of the French economy and his perceived elitist disregard for the effects his policies are having on France’s working class.
France’s economy is growing, but very slowly. Most of the growth is centered in its major cities, like Paris, and those on the periphery and in rural communities haven’t seen as many gains. What’s more, France’s rural population relies much more on cars than its urban dwellers do, which is why many in those regions seem the angriest with the gas tax.
“Ask a Parisian — for him none of this is an issue, because he doesn’t need a car,” Marco Pavan, a truck and cab driver in a small town near the France-Switzerland border, told the Washington Post on Saturday. “We live on the side of a mountain,” he continued. “There’s no bus or train to take us anywhere. We have to have a car.”
That’s why some see Macron as a president of the rich. Jeff Lightfoot, a France expert at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, DC, told Vox last week that Macron is initiating changes that many of the country’s wealthy can muddle through, but that the nation’s poorer citizens might not be able to overcome.
So, to recap, the protesters are mostly working-class folks who are angry at what they see as an out-of-touch elitist president whose policies favor the wealthy and corporations at the expense of working-class French people.
That is quite literally the opposite of a “middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism,” as Kirk characterized the protests.
(“Cultural Marxism” is a favorite phrase of many on the far right and alt-right, “where it serves as an umbrella term variously responsible for such un-American and anti-Western ills as atheism, secularism, political correctness, gay rights, sexual liberation, feminism, affirmative action, liberalism, socialism, anarchism, and, above all, multiculturalism,” as Vice explains.)
To be sure, people in the middle class who are also affected by the high cost of living are part of the protest movement as well — but it’s doubtful many of them would characterize their grievances against Macron as a “rebellion against cultural Marxism.”
Trump should know all of this. Instead, he retweeted Kirk’s demonstrably false comments.
But the fact that the sitting president of the United States either does not understand or is deliberately misrepresenting the basic dynamics of a massive political crisis roiling one of America’s closest allies is deeply disturbing.
Trump has the entire US intelligence apparatus at his fingertips if he wants to understand what’s going on in any given country. He also could just call Macron at any time to ask him what’s going on.
Instead, the president chose to retweet the factually incorrect analysis of a 25-year-old conservative activist in the US who is quite well known for his magical ability to detect hidden whiffs of socialism wherever he goes.
It’s also possible that Trump didn’t even bother to think that deeply about the assertions Kirk was making, and merely shared Kirk’s tweet because of the part that describes people in the streets of Paris chanting, “We want Trump.”
To be fair, there is a video that seems to show people chanting, “We want Trump.” It’s just not entirely clear whether they were being serious — or just cheering for the guy wearing a rubber Trump mask and dancing for the crowd.
Oh, and it seems the video was taken in the UK — not France.