France is burning (again), and United States President Donald Trump is (again) making the overseas protests about his own agenda.
In a Saturday morning tweet, Trump weighed in on the weekend’s latest round of riots in Paris, claiming that protesters have been chanting “We Want Trump,” as well as arguing that the Paris climate agreement was to blame for the protests. (Trump withdrew the US from the landmark agreement last year, reaffirming that decision just last week when he refused to sign onto the G20’s non-binding joint statement promising to tackle climate change.)
The president implied that France’s protests, which started in response to rising taxes on gas and diesel, had something to do with people not wanting to “pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment.”
It’s a transparent attempt by the president to twist a major political crisis to his own advantage, with France experiencing ongoing riots which have led to hundreds of arrests, thousands of dollars in property damage, and multiple deaths.
The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting “We Want Trump!” Love France.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018
He later returned to the topic, adding that “maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?”
Very sad day & night in Paris. Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes? The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major country where emissions went down last year!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018
The protests began on November 17, when French drivers led a demonstration protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s gas taxes, which were meant to minimize France’s reliance on fossil fuels. But the “gilets jaunes” movement — so named for the “yellow vests” demonstrators wear — has since escalated into anti-elitist riots that some say have “escaped from its progenitors.”
While the government has shelved its plans for fuel tax increases, the protesters are now demanding a redistribution of tax revenue to the working class and the creation of a democratic citizen’s assembly, as well as a number of political and institutional reforms, according to a list of demands presented to France’s minister of ecology François de Rugy.
Paris is on lockdown today, with anywhere from 1,500 to 8,000 protesters gathered on the famed Champs Elysées and around the city for a Saturday protest that has been dubbed “Round 4.” Tear gas and rubber bullets have already been used to dispel protesters around the country, while in Paris, several cars have been set ablaze, mainly in the wealthier arrondissements, as police try to contain small groups of violent protesters.
But nowhere in those riots have “We want Trump” chants been heard, reported Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper. In an update responding to Trump’s tweet, the paper wrote that none of their journalists covering the protests had heard that slogan uttered. Chants that have been reported include “Macron resign!” and “Go home, bourgeois!”
One video circulating online does show protesters chanting, “We want Trump,” while a man in a rubber Trump mask dances on top of a bus, but as Vox’s Jennifer Williams and Alex Ward point out, the video is from the United Kingdom — and it’s not even clear the chant is completely serious.
Trump is using a political crisis to push his own agenda
This isn’t the first time Trump has made the Paris protests about himself and his agenda.
On Tuesday, he retweeted a wildly inaccurate tweet from Charlie Kirk, a 25-year-old conservative and Trump supporter. Kirk claimed that the riots were “because of radical leftist fuel taxes” and that it was a “middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism”:
There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes
Media barely mentioning this
America is booming, Europe is burning
They want to cover up the middle class rebellion against cultural Marxism
“We want Trump” being chanted through the streets of Paris
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) December 4, 2018
As Vox’s Jennifer Williams and Alex Ward point out, the fuel tax is far from a “radical leftist” one, as Macron isn’t using the tax to support or expand social welfare. The protests have more to do with Macron’s elitism and perceived disdain for the working class:
While the protests may have started over the fuel tax, they have since morphed into a broader indictment of Macron’s handling of the French economy and his perceived elitist disregard for the effects his policies are having on France’s working class.
France’s economy is growing, but very slowly. Most of the growth is centered in its major cities, like Paris, and those on the periphery and in rural communities haven’t seen as many gains. What’s more, France’s rural population relies much more on cars than its urban dwellers do, which is why many in those regions seem the angriest with the gas tax.
Kirk also claimed that “we want Trump” was being chanted in the streets, which is likely where Trump picked up this idea. It hasn’t become any more accurate in the several days since then.