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Paris — The world looked on as yellow vest pro­testers set their city on fire for the eigh­teenth straight weekend. Glass lit­tered the streets of the famous Champs-Élysées as luxury store owners shat­tered their own windows to replace them, and French law enforcement rushed vis­itors away as a national bank went up in flames.

Men and women in yellow vests, or “gilets jaunes,” flooded the streets of the French capital to face police, who had pre­pared for the poten­tially violent protests beforehand by blocking half of the city’s roads with armed bar­riers and trucks. They were right to do so: Yellow vest pro­testers met them with stones and glass; the police responded with tear gas and water cannons. Sixty people, including 17 police officers and one fireman, were injured during the out­break, and nearly 200 people are being held in custody while they await ques­tioning, according to CNN.

What began as a protest against French Pres­ident Emmanuel Macron’s planned gas tax increase has turned into mul­tiple violent con­fronta­tions. Despite Macron’s best efforts, the yellow vests refuse to settle the debate civilly, ignoring his pleas for a public debate and chan­neling their anger into erup­tions on the streets.

“No doubt: they are calling for vio­lence and are here to wreak havoc,” French Interior Min­ister Christophe Cas­taner wrote on Twitter as the protests erupted. “Pro­fes­sionals of damage and dis­order, equipped and masked, have infil­trated the protests. My instruction to the police: Respond very firmly to these unac­ceptable attacks.”

The civil unrest in Paris is per­vasive and unset­tling. One French wine shop owner in Mont­martre told me he is preparing for “another civil war.” And another café employee told me most Parisian res­i­dents are “nervous” about what is to come.

But as the protests wear on and the French gov­ernment moves forward with the tax hike, the “gilets jaunes” have begun bick­ering among them­selves. They have no real leader — Macron has attempted to nego­tiate with the group but their demands are as vague as their lead­ership.

More than 10,000 yellow vests marched on Sat­urday, com­pared to the nearly quarter of a million pro­testers that turned out for their first ever protest on Nov. 17, according to the French Interior Min­istry.

Despite this, the yellow vests show no sign of stopping. Their dis­content with Macron’s gov­ernment is rooted in far more than just a gas tax: This is a classic political uprising in which an urban, popular movement has arisen to stare down the urban elites.

France’s socialist policies, like uni­versal healthcare and free edu­cation, are failing the middle and lower classes. French res­i­dents outside the cities stretch their incomes to the end of each month, a Parisian res­ident whose family lives in the coun­tryside told me.

Macron, however, seems unwilling to face reality. He con­tinues to push a leftist agenda that would drive the nation even further into a sinking deficit.

The French pres­ident has the right idea. He’s toured the country to talk to cit­izens and find real solu­tions. But what he doesn’t under­stand is that his ide­o­logical-driven agenda puts the French people at a dis­ad­vantage, both polit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally.

Orga­nized protests are all too common in France, as cit­izens take to the streets more often than the voting booths. But the “giles jaunes” look familiar. The dis­content and lack of belonging voiced by the yellow vests is rooted in the same grass­roots, pop­ulist movement that drove Amer­icans to the polls in the 2016 pres­i­dential election and the British during the recent Brexit vote, in which the English chose to leave the European Union.

Whether he’ll admit it or not, Macron’s “great debate” with the yellow vests has become a great debate on the sus­tain­ability of socialist policies. But until Macron changes his agenda to pri­or­itize French pros­perity and hap­piness over carbon effi­ciency and reduction, people will con­tinue to get hurt.

Alas, Macron could learn a thing or two from his fellow Frenchman Alexis de Toc­queville.

“After having thus taken each indi­vidual one by one into its pow­erful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sov­ereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, com­pli­cated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vig­orous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd,” de Toc­queville wrote in “Democracy in America.”

“It does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it con­stantly opposes your acting,” he con­tinued. “It does not destroy, it pre­vents birth; it does not tyr­annize, it hinders, it represses, it ener­vates, it extin­guishes, it stu­pefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and indus­trious animals, of which the gov­ernment is the shepherd.”

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Kaylee McGhee
Kaylee McGhee is a senior at Hillsdale College, majoring in Politics with a minor in Journalism. This is her fourth year writing for the Collegian and she serves as the paper's Opinions Editor. Kaylee worked in Washington D.C. last year and wrote for the Weekly Standard. Her work has also appeared in the Detroit News and the Orange County Register. Follow her on Twitter: @KayleeDMcGhee email: kmcghee@hillsdale.edu