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"Let Them Take the Train"

The French Revolution has some lessons for our modern world. Over and over, during both the beginning and the end of the revolution that changed Europe forever, concessions by the King or modifications of governance by the ruling Directory were overshadowed by the dire economic straits of the people. When the need for bread competed with enlightenment ideas, bread won. The final straw was that continuing economic woes resulted in First Consul and later to be Emperor, Napoleon.

Emmanuel Macron in France is suffering from the elitist label, capped by his raising of the fuel taxes that stresses already financially strapped Frenchmen, particularly outside of Paris, where jobs are scarce, there is no Metro,  and travel by automobile is mandatory to get from place to place. His climate protection goal of reducing fuel use and plowing money into environmental protection is seen as an elitist dream that overrides his concern for the common man.

The lesson here is that economics can easily overrule idealism, especially during periods of economic distress. As in the United States, it might even be that perceived economic distress is as important as the actual thing. The Republican Party has been able to legislate and tax in ways that profit the wealthy while giving minimal benefit to the middle class and none to the poor without causing a populist backlash. The Democrats, however, are hammered for choosing the environment or immigrants, or diversity, over the economy. They are continually called elitists, despite trying to present the message that they are for the common man.

Climate change has not been an immediate fear for many people, especially those who are struggling on a day today basis. The fear of leaving a ravaged planet to our grandchildren is too far off to matter. This is changing as extreme weather events occur more often and are tied to climate change. Both scientific studies of future weather patterns and current hurricane, blizzard and fire disasters provide evidence that the less well off are particularly vulnerable to these catastrophes, since they not only live in their paths but they have few reserves to help them avoid or recover from disasters.

But elitists need to beware. Proposals that coalesce support among the socially conscious privileged, but have the potential to cause pain among the less well off, less privileged, need to be looked at very carefully and everyone’s needs have to be taken into account. President’s Trump’s campaign message about saving the environmentally destructive coal industry won him votes in Pennsylvania, and California Governor Brown’s gas tax increase to provide money for highway improvements was a bitter point of contention between liberals and conservatives, although an effort to repeal it fell far short in November.

The street protests in France are a warning. They are not against spending government money, since they also are in favor of more government assistance on several issues, but they are against raising taxes in a way that hurts the common man and meets goals endorsed by elites. They also are against the perceived deaf ears of the country’s leader, who appears to have little understanding of the plight of those who are suffering in the current French economy. These are all lessons for progressives here in the U.S. One problem is that arguments, even for programs that benefit the average person and against programs that favor the super rich, need to be couched in terms that are meaningful to everyone and not just those who are highly educated, read liberal publications, have leisure time, and talk only to each other.

Reader Comments (2)

Democrats are not being hammered over immigration. However, Democrats and globalist-oriented Republicans are being hammered for encouraging illegal immigration. And if Democrats are being hammered for promoting ethnic and racial diversity, it’s only because focusing on people’s immutable characteristics is both pointless and a canard rooted in a morally smug, unrecognized bigotry. Also, middle-class people can appreciate modest but significant benefits from the tax cuts. One of the biggest problems in this country is when people covet the wealth of others and seek to use the government to steal that wealth and redistribute it to others. Everyone who reads this is magnificently wealthy by historical standards and should be amazingly appreciative of that fact.

December 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

Hi Casey. You are so brilliant. I agree completely. Send this to Nancy Pelosi and your reps.

December 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Hurley

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