Every so often the laws of nature appear to reverse,
as when cold air is trapped on the earth's surface in a thermal
inversion enveloping people in a smog of pollution. Such has been the
recent political experience of the Dutch, until a blast of fresh air
on Wednesday sanitized the country.
The Dutch election came as a relief to mainstream political parties in Europe after Brexit in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in America. Geert Wilders the Dutch populist, anti-immigrant, Koran and Mosque banning firebrand simply burned himself out. At one point leading in the polls with 25 percent, there were fears he might win a plurality and have the prerogative of being the first to be asked to form a government -- although an impossibility as the other major parties had refused any alliance. Even so it would have delayed the formation of a new governing coalition.
None of it came to pass. Mr. Wilders came a distant second with 20 seats and only 13 percent of the vote. Outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte's center right party was the greatly relieved winner of 33 seats although it lost 8. A big winner was Jesse Klaver's GreenLeft which boosted its seats from 4 to 14. It was in its way a repudiation of Geert Wilders and his hate rhetoric for the attractively boyish Mr. Klaver has a Moroccan father and a mother of Indonesian descent.
Dutch Labor party PvdA suffered an historic defeat losing 29 seats our
of the 38 held previously. Their traditional voters chose smaller left
wing parties and GreenLeft. Might it portend the fate of British Labor
unless they can marshal their supporters before the next election?
All in all not a bad week for the Dutch who ended it with their heads high and their liberal/moral credentials intact. Then, was it not Hugo Grotius who initiated the concept of just war in the West, sparing civilians and prisoners of war and so forth.
In the U.S., our own homegrown populist was busy exercising his charms on Germany's Angela Merkel, here on a very brief one-day visit, her hand strengthened by Wilders poor showing. Asked by the press to shake hands for a photo, President Trump ignored the request. No doubt a great relief for the Chancellor as 87 percent of Germans in a January poll felt he was not good for Germany. A photo like that could have been plastered all over by her opposition before the forthcoming election on September 24th. They did shake hands although more privately and not posed.
Dutch election results have fortified the EU drivers. Marine Le Pen's
star seems to have peaked and the latest betting odds offered have
Emmanuel Macron an odds-on favorite. While bookmakers can be wrong, Le
Pen's chances in the French second round look remote. That Britain is
adrift, facing a possible breakaway Scotland, has been sobering to other
electorates. Being part of the EU has definite advantages.
As Angela Merkel obliquely pointed out, addressing the press instead of Donald Trump, who was bemoaning Germany's great trade deal with the United States, her country has long surrendered trade negotiations to the EU in Brussels -- a large trading block comparable to the U.S. and consequently a more powerful negotiator. And as she has pointed out earlier, why can't American manufacturers turn out cars Americans want to buy.
Little Britain adrift in a sea of sharks had Theresa May running to Washington doubly eager to sign a trade deal to allow it to swim in the wake of one of the biggest fish around. It doesn't take great art for Mr. Trump to figure that deal, but just wait for Mr. Xi's visit. He has already had him retreat from attempts at a two-China policy without moving a muscle. That's one tough cookie, as they say.
Perhaps a bigger problem for Mr. Trump is his idee fixe. He is beginning to be tedious, and nothing turns off the public faster than a one-trick pony -- in Mr. Trump's case squeezing more money for the US out of friends and rivals alike (from the so-called bad trade deals and countries not paying enough for their defense). Once the public has had enough, there goes the second term. Going by recent poll numbers, that seems to be the hope of an increasing majority of the people.