Observations of an ex pat: Trump lost on Wednesday

I am not talking about the court ruling on version two of his travel ban. Neither am I talking about the mounting incredulity over his wiretapping claims and tax returns.

I am talking about an event that took place 3,843 miles away from the White House on the other side of the Atlantic– the Dutch general election.

Trump’s man was  Geert Wilders. The anti-EU, anti-immigration, racist leader of the Netherlands’ Freedom Party  who has bounced in and out of the Dutch courts on hate crime charges.

There was never any question of Wilders winning a majority in parliament and forming the next Dutch government. Their proportional representation  system makes that a virtual impossibility for any political party.

However, Wilders’ Freedom Party was tipped to win more seats than any other Dutch party. He failed, miserably. And he failed with 80 percent voter turnout—up 5.5 percent from the 2012 elections.

The hope of President Trump and his alt-right eminence grise Steve Bannon was that a Wilders victory would be a fresh stiff breeze for the anti-EU, anti-immigration flag hoisted by Britain’s Brexit referendum on June 23rd.

“Look at what’s happening in Europe,” say the Trump people. “They are turning away from liberal values and demanding a return to the homogenous nation state in reaction to the immigrant takeover.”

Well, not in the Netherlands. Or, at least, nowhere near a majority.  Not only did Wilders fail to achieve the alt-right breakthrough, but the rabidly pro-EU, pro-immigration  Green Party jumped  from 4 to 19 parliamentary seats.

Led by the 32-year-old curly-haired telegenic Jesse Klavers, the Greens secured the youth vote when their leader told the BBC: “We are the opposite of Geert Wilders. He is hate. We are love.”

Wilders’ defeat is also a blow for Marine Le Pen, the right-wing National Front candidate in the two-round April-May French presidential elections. Le Pen has been slipping in the polls as centrist dark horse Emmanuel Macron has moved to just one point behind her.  National Front failure to  the reach second round voting would be a major setback for Europe’s far-right and destroy any hopes for Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland party in the autumn German elections.

But back to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Why are they so opposed to the EU and its apparent liberal attitudes towards  world trade, race issues and immigration? Because the failure of the EU and its rejection by the European electorate is justification for Trump’s America first policy of walls, deportations, travel  bans, aid cutbacks, increased defence spending and tariff barriers. The interdependent hip thigh bone theory of the world is not acknowledged by Trump economists, but it is embraced by his political philosophers.

Next Saturday EU leaders gather in Rome for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which established the European Economic Community—forerunner of the European Union. The EEC grew out of the recognition that the only way to end the long history of disastrous European wars was to make member states economically and politically dependent on each other.

For more than half a century it looked as if the founders had succeeded. The continent became the world’s number one trading bloc and delivered peace and prosperity to its members. But it has been downhill since the banking crisis of 2008-2009. There are economic woes in Spain, Italy, Portugal and—most of all—Greece; immigration fall-out from a war-torn Middle East and then—worst of all—Brexit.  All of which has led people to voice the unspeakable—Can the EU survive?

The 27 heads of government have been practising their brave face looks for the Roman festivities. Following the Dutch elections their task will be lightened—a bit.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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  • The main lesson for us is surely that the junior partner, Labour in the previous coalition, though not that junior in terms of seats, took an enormous hit. Resembled our own disaster ubder similair circumstances in 2015 and the Greens in Ireland. Steer clear of being in a coalition, unless you are the major partner.

  • We shouldn’t be too triumphant. The Dutch version of right-wing populism is a particularly nasty variety, openly calling immigrants scum, banning mosques and the Koran, making their country Muslim free. In other countries it’s far more nuanced and shielded in patriotism, security and protectionism.

    And they still got 20%. Yes it wasn’t enough to win even in the splintered Dutch party system, but that’s still a lot of people supporting their agenda who aren’t going anywhere. We can’t brush them under the carpet.

  • Little Jackie Paper 17th Mar '17 - 10:13am

    theakes – The trend is hard to miss. But it does, of course, raise the question of what to do about it. After all, having been strongly supportive of the idea Coalitions it does seem a bit off to talk in terms of steering clear of coalitions!

    Indeed in the Netherlands there is a strong PR system, which suggests to me that a FPTP electoral system is not necessarily a decisive factor in the heavy losses we’ve seen junior partners take.

    At the time when the UK coalition formed in 2010 I thought the idea of junior partner ministers being ‘over-represented but thinly spread’ was a good one. With hindsight I think I was totally wrong – the way things worked out it was a terrible idea. A better approach I think would have been maybe 1 junior partner minister in the Treasury and also the junior partner taking a small number of ministries (perhaps only one) wholesale. I don’t think I would even have had a Deputy PM post. That way it’s easier to differentiate between the parties involved. A smaller, more concentrated way of working. And, of course, if the junior partner does a bad job voters can say so.

    I don’t know if other countries have tried this approach to Coalitions?

    Obviously this doesn’t entirely get around issues of Collective Responsibility, and perhaps Coalition Agreements could be more pointed. But overall the result in the Netherlands was a continuation of a bad trend for junior coalition partners and I think it’s a really important aspect that has been rather lost in the coverage.

  • Denis Mollison 17th Mar '17 - 12:38pm

    @tpfkar – “And they still got 20%”

    No they didn’t: Willders party got 20 seats out of 150 (13.3%) on a vote of 13.1%.

    It’s interesting to compare UKIP’s performance in our 2015 election, where they got 1 seat (0.15 %) on a vote of 12.6%.

  • Red Liberal 17th Mar '17 - 2:13pm

    Rutte and VVD borrowed and used a lot of Wilders’ xenophobic rhetoric to win this election. This is not a good thing.

  • Michael Parsons 18th Mar '17 - 1:04pm

    Actually Wilders gained 9 seats and came second, Rutte reduced his losses to 5 or so only by adopting Wilders’ policies in part, and will govern only by a ‘sell out’ coalition.
    More generally we see ‘non-establishment’ parties like Wilders, Greens etc gaining, while the mainstream parties are losing, to the point where Dutch Labour (like LibDems here) almost vanished. Only the ‘extremes’ are flourishing (like Corbyn’s group) and this is evident across Europe,UK and USA. because the old Parties never do what they say (Clegg, take note).
    Wilders’ strength, like the French National Front if she loses the Presidency, will be to sit on the sidelines and attack the others fiercely as they flounder on: by keeping clear of coalition compromises they can only endear themselves to the electorate further, because what a weary electorate seems to want and will vote for is the coming clean sweep. I suggest Trump can only succeed; he will fail if he fails to wreck the conventional liberalism of our day. His open attack on Merkel’s immigration policy in her presence, and the absence if any handshake, his cutting back of the State Department budget (clean air, environment etc) and slashing the futile aid budget shows he is at least making a good start in consolidating his support.
    The New Labour/Clegg route to destruction awaits those who care to try it.

  • nvelope2003 18th Mar '17 - 2:52pm

    Michael Parsons: Did Wilders gain 9 extra seats ? The figures I have seen give show him getting 5 more to give him 20 and Rutte 8 less than previously to give him 33. Wilders’ party had 25 seats in 2010. Corbyn may be flourishing among Labour Party members but does not seem to be doing so among voters and the Liberal Democrats have improved their position in actual elections. The Conservatives have adopted more extreme UK style policies but may be forced to abandon them eventually if Brexit turns out to be more problematic than envisaged.

    You are probably right to say that parties which avoid coalitions will do better than those who join them but if they come to power, at some point they will be forced to make the same compromises as the existing governing parties. I am not sure how scrapping policies to improve air quality and the environment is going to help anyone except those who cause pollution.

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