The “large and violent French protests” Trump was referring to is the “gilet jaune” or “yellow vest” movement, which began in response to a recent rise in diesel fuel prices, a consequence of President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to curb climate change.
But the protests rapidly expanded from a focus on fuel prices to general discontentment with a president whose approval ratings have plummeted to 26 per cent and who is often seen as aloof and out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.
The larger protest was actually the weekend earlier, when more than 282,000 people blocked roads all over France. According to statistics released by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, about 106,000 gathered this weekend.
But this time, the eyes of the world – including Trump’s, apparently – were captivated by images of a clash between protesters and police on the Champs-Elysees, one of the grandest avenues of the French capital, if not the world. Police fired tear gas, and protesters hurled stones.
About 8000 people gathered on the avenue, according to the Interior Ministry.
Despite the drama of those images, however, the truth is that more people actually gathered in Paris on Saturday to protest – peacefully – for a different cause: an end to sexism and violence against women. According to French media reports, as many as 30,000 attended the other Saturday demonstration.
Ever since his visit to Paris for the centennial of the 1918 Armistice, which ended World War I, Trump has been particularly outspoken in his criticisms of Macron. The French President, who had once tried to court Trump, gave a speech under the Arc de Triomphe on November 11 in which he condemned nationalism as “the exact opposite of patriotism”, which many viewed as a direct challenge to Trump, who had previously described himself as a nationalist.
Trump was none too pleased with Macron’s comments. He was also angered by what he incorrectly understood to be Macron’s belief that Europe needed an independent army to defend itself against the United States.
In fact, Macron had said – in remarks that were widely mistranslated in many of the initial English-language reports – that Europe should not be so reliant on the United States for defence and security, a line Trump has long touted in his discussions with European leaders.
But it was Macron’s comments on nationalism that faced the brunt of Trump’s ire.
“The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%,” Trump wrote earlier this month. “He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people – and rightfully so!”
The Washington Post