– Economic inequality and rural resentment. Western elites breathed a sigh of relief last year when French voters rejected the candidates of the far-right and the far-left to hand their presidency to the young, charismatic, centrist – and grossly inexperienced – Macron and his just-invented political party of like-minded neophytes. But any era of good feeling was almost guaranteed to be short-lived.
Macron’s policies – tough on middle-class workers while rolling back France’s historically high taxes on the wealthy – have caused his presidency to post approval ratings that make Donald Trump’s numbers look Lincolnesque. The gasoline tax caused those tensions to boil over because, according to the French rank-and-file, pampered Paris elites don’t understand how rural workers must drive long distances just to eek out a living wage.
That’s hardly a uniquely French complaint. Similar tensions between cosmopolitan, urban elites and the “forgotten people” in the countryside have led far-right, anti-immigrant parties in Germany (never a good thing) to gain strength as the Angela Merkel era winds down and to England’s rolling turmoil over Brexit.
Here in the United States, that same conflict didn’t only give us Trump but underlies antidemocratic moves in states like Wisconsin (where a top GOP lawmaker suggests that votes from urban Milwaukee and Madison shouldn’t count). And moves like Amazon bringing even more six-figure jobs to New York and D.C are exacerbating these cross-currents. Paris is a guide to how things could go south.