The Dutch oven of modern politics
It’s disappointingly easy to convince people that The Outsiders, the They, are responsible for all your troubles and are a threat to your safety. Terrifyingly reliable, century by century. So I watched this week’s election in the Netherlands with massive trepidation.
The Netherlands. The country where so much of the freedom, liberty, and tolerance that form the foundation of Western civilization and success was born and developed. But also the most densely populated country in Europe, struggling with the shifts and currents of the world right now. So it was no surprise that they had their own “blame Islam” villain stirring up the darkest parts. But with such a proud tradition and identity as progressive thinkers, I had hope that the Dutch would resist the sort of self-sabotage that the UK and USA have embraced.
Particularly important, because what the Dutch did, the French and Germans would see. I’m not too worried about the Germans, who I think learned the lessons of the 20th century better than anyone, but a continental crack begun in Holland could spread. So how did it work out?
With impressive turnout, 87% of Dutch voters rejected the willful misunderstanding and moral weakness that have contaminated the White House and sought to spill like an overflowing septic tank into the canals of Amsterdam. I love the Dutch! Ik houd van Holland!
Of course there’s a but. Because not only is the overall trend moving troublingly toward the Right, but Wilders was able to do the same as Trump in bullying the conversation. The voices with the least helpful contributions are doing the most talking, while misguided policies make things worse and a sinister power grows stronger. It’s up to the Dutch to show us how to handle this problem. No party has a majority, so the ruling coalition will include members with vastly different opinions. Which could go at least two ways:
Option 1: differing viewpoints lead to political brinksmanship and absolutism, ensuring that nothing gets done. Increased voter frustration feeds the extremist they just united to defeat and we all go down the tube. Let’s call this the “Republican Congress” technique.
Option 2: differing viewpoints give a voice to more people, and unity in the face of a commonly recognized danger leads to true compromises that no one loves but benefit everyone. Let’s call this approach “Democracy.”
That second one is tough. But if anyone can do it, it’s the Dutch. They’ve given us so much over the centuries, and we need them now more than ever.
P.S. I was delighted at the chance to guide two more of my beloved Best of Europe in 21 Days tours, and highly recommend them if you’d like to go over and see for yourself.