French Revolution and the Let Them Eat Cake Shutdown

Welcome to the “Let Them Eat Cake Shutdown.”

The French Revolution has now entered into the current federal government shutdown in the United States.

The BBC reports that “US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has attracted scorn for suggesting workers affected by the ongoing government shutdown should take out bank loans. … Mr Ross also downplayed the number of people affected by the prolonged shutdown, saying it is ‘not like it’s a gigantic number overall.'”

The New York Times sums up the United States Secretary of Commerce’s advice to furloughed federal workers: “The latest advice the Trump administration is giving government employees who are missing their paychecks: Just borrow some money.”

Commerce Secretary Ross, a Republican and Trump appointee, is a multimillionaire former investment banker, so his comments seem especially callous. Memes are already appearing to portray Ross as an indifferent Marie Antoinette.

“It was Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Mr. Trump’s most visible shutdown adversary, who invoked the French Revolution,” the New York Times reports.

“Is this the ‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude,” Speaker Pelosi said, “or call your father for money?”

Pelosi’s last comment is allegedly “a reference to an earlier taunt of the president after a shutdown meeting,” according to the New York Times.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, also responded to Ross’s comments with an allusion to the French Revolution.  According to the BBC, “Schumer called the comments ‘appalling,’ and said they were ‘the 21st Century equivalent of ‘let them eat cake.'”

The BBC explains that “Marie Antoinette, wife of French King Louis XVI and the last queen before the French Revolution in 1789, is apocryphally thought to have used the phrase when she learnt that people had no bread. Social media users quickly picked up on Mr Ross’s comments, deriding the commerce secretary for being ‘out of touch.'”

Politicians’ rather facile reference to the comments that Marie Antoinette almost certainly did not actually make nonetheless are recognizable and effective, precisely because the apocryphal statement “let them eat cake” captured the French royal family’s detachment and indifference to ordinary people’s suffering during the French Revolution.

So, unsurprisingly, news media are picking up on the allusion to the French Revolution and referring to the shutdown as the “Let Them Eat Cake Shutdown.”

Political cartoonists like Dave Whamond (distributed on CagleCartoons) are already exploiting Ross’s tone-deaf comments:

The New York Times reports on the “Let Them Eat Cake Shutdown.” Washington Monthly published an article on “The ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ Administration.”

The New York Times reports on Ross’s advice. The BBC reports on Ross’s interview and Schumer’s comments. NPR also reports on Ross’s comments and Democratic reactions.

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This entry was posted in Comparative Revolutions, French History, French Revolution and Napoleon, History in the Media, Political Culture, Revolts and Revolutions. Bookmark the permalink.

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