It can be hard to be a Francophile, one who respects and admires France. I used to live an hour from its border. During that time I learned to appreciate the French people, their history, and their culture.
I spent a lot of time in Strasbourg, Epinal, and Reims. Those of us who visited on a regular basis noted a dichotomy about the French. On one hand they were kind, articulate, and generous. Not to mention the oldest ally of the U.S., an ally whose aid was decisive in our victory in the War of Independence. On the other hand they could be entitled, absurdly petulant, and emotionally hyperbolic.
Those last three traits are now in evidence as the also dichotomous Yellow Vest protestors are livid that $1 billion pledged to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral will not instead go to their goal of ending income inequality and homelessness.
The breathtaking illogic of that indignation is staggering. To surmise that a mere billion, in a nation and economy the size of France, would make a dent in the nature of its economic distribution is pure silliness borne of an attachment to emotion in comparison to empirical evidence and easily acquired data.
To further not comprehend that homelessness is mainly a product of behavior and poor decision making, as I came to understand after running a homeless shelter for four years, is the entitled attitude of people who perceive money is at the root of any issue, because they have gobs of it, and all problems may be solved with a wave of the magic money wand.
To theorize, if not spent on Notre Dame, those funds would automatically go to Bolshie projects, is thinking that recalls my dad telling my mom when I was a kid, after she admonished me to eat my vegetables because kids in Africa were starving, “Tina, if David eats his peas, some kid in Kenya does not go ‘yummm.’”
As we’ve noted in this column before, the Yellow Vests are not quite a French version of our Tea Party. Yes, there is a large populist aspect about them. However, it internally competes with a leftist run amok in the streets aspect. Hence the dichotomy.
Plus, the French really love a good riot. It’s their favorite entertainment. Remember these are the guys who in May of 1968 took over the Paris streets to protest, among other things, our involvement in a war they saddled us with in the first place. 1910, 1926, 1947, 1979, the riot list goes on. That’s just a partial 20th century inventory. There have also been periods of domestic tranquility. Until the Yellow Vests, much of the rioting seemed limited to the Muslim suburbs of Paris. The capitol itself was relatively calm.
Though now, switching demeanor in a typical case of French national schizophrenia, a number of them have returned to the riotous 1930s spirit that immobilized society and thus brought them such an immortal martial reputation in WWII. This Gallic habit makes others so annoyed they forget that if not for Charles Martel and the Franks at Tours there would not have been a Western Europe as we knew it in the second millennium. And thus, likely no United States.
Let’s hope the Yellow Vests, or at least their leftist contingents, fade and legitimate work is done on inequality of opportunity, not result. That is an issue that France must deal with.
But not in the streets engaging in its seeming national pastime.