President Emmanuel Macron’s declaration that he intends to ‘emmerder’ – which loosely translates, excuse my English, as ‘piss off’ – the non-vaccinated has been widely reported this morning as the mother of all political gaffes.
Macron declared, in an interview with Le Parisien, France’s best-selling newspaper:
“In a democracy, the worst enemy is lies and stupidity. We put pressure on the non-vaccinated by limiting their access to social activities as much as possible. In fact, almost all people, over 90 per cent, have signed up. It is a very small minority that is resistant. How do we reduce this minority? We reduce them, I'm sorry to say, by annoying them even more.The non-vaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so, we are going to continue to do it, until the end. It is the immense moral fault of the antivaxxers: they undermine what is the solidity of a nation. When my freedom threatens that of others, I become irresponsible. An irresponsible person is no longer a citizen.
Did he really say that out loud? What was he thinking? Is he seriously proposing reducing those objecting to vaccination and the jabbing of their children to the status of ‘non citizens?’
On the morning chat shows today, the commentariat howled in outrage at the violence of the president’s language. Twitter is on fire. He’s been condemned by Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the left and Marine Le Pen on the right. From the furious reactions, it would appear that fewer than 100 days from the first round of the presidential election, Macron has united France against him. Even Gavin Mortimer, writing for this website, says that he has gone too far.
Here’s another theory. Macron’s outburst was a deliberate and calculated move. He knows that vaccine hesitants and refuseniks aren’t going to vote for him anyway. 'He is saying out loud what many people are thinking in silence,’ as Roland Lescure, a Macron-supporting deputy, put it. ‘The freedom of the ten per cent of non-vaccinated people ends where the freedom of the 90 per cent who are vaccinated begins. That's it.’
Such talk might make liberty enthusiasts nervous, but it is not without its own grim logic. And Macron’s timing is as deliberate as his language. A government bill to convert the existing passe sanitaire app into an even more restrictive full-fledged vaccine passport without which French citizens will be denied access to education, transportation, cultural events and shopping centres, has this week struggled to pass the National Assembly.
Macron began his presidential term repeatedly insulting anyone with the temerity to oppose him, including school children, the unemployed and the gilets jaunes. More recently, he has engaged in tantrum diplomacy against the Americans and Australians (over the submarine deal), the Swiss (who declined to buy French warplanes) and above all Boris Johnson, who he recently described as a ‘gougnafier’ — roughly translatable as a boor and cock-up artist.
But the crass vulgarity? How can he imagine this is consistent with the dignity of his office? Can anyone imagine General De Gaulle speaking like this? A political consultant working for Eric Zemmour told me this morning: ‘This is 2022. It won’t matter.’ Quite so. Macron knows that, in the age of social media, speaking with a potty mouth only helps get your message across. Nobody cares about dignity online. And, in any case, the same word was used by De Gaulle's successor Georges Pompidou in 1966 when he said it was time to stop 'pissing off' the French.
Consistency is an overrated quality in politics. Ten days ago, supporters of the president were briefing that Macron has regretted the harsh tone he has so frequently used. We were promised a kinder, gentler Emmanuel Macron. ‘Respect must be a part of political life and this is something I have learned,’ he himself said. It’s fair to say that the New Year Resolution has not lasted. He probably never intended it to.