Lona Goudswaard

Mar 172017


In this more personal As Seen From Afar I’d like to put the perspective upside-down and try to explain the results of this week’s election to those who have followed it from afar, worried that the Dutch might end up with ‘another Trump’ by voting for populist Geert Wilders of the Party voor de Vrijheid (PVV), lit. Party for the Freedom.

First of all, let me explain why it was very unlikely the Dutch would end up with a second Trump, and to do so I have to delve into the history and rules of our election system a bit, so bear with me for a moment.

One major difference between the American and the Dutch system is that officially our head of state is our King so we do not elect a President as head of state; our head of government is the Prime Minister, or Premier, who also isn’t directly elected. We have a parliament, which consists of two chambers and of which the Second Chamber, or Lower House, is the basis for a government. It has 150 seats, which are filled through elections using a party-list proportional representation: all votes are equal and every vote counts as one.

So far,  so good, as we say. After the elections, usually the leader of the party that “wins” the election, i.e. most seats in the 2nd Chamber, also gets to have a go at forming a government. If he (until now it has always been a ‘he’) succeeds, that person becomes the Premier, the head of government. Of course the Premier has little or no power/authority compared to an American president: no presidential decrees. Appointing ministers in the Premier’s cabinet is usually a complex game between his party and others.

You may have noticed I used a lot of ‘usually’ and quotes, and that brings me to the second reason why Wilders could not have become the Dutch Trump. As described above, the 2nd Chamber has 150 seats, to be filled by all the fractions that get enough votes to fill one or more seats. But here’s the rub: this year there were 28 parties to choose from and of those 13 made it into the 2nd Chamber. This means that seats are scattered among parties and a majority government can only be formed by forming a coalition, as usual.

2 3 do 16 mrt. 2017 NRC Handelsblad NRC Digitale editie

2 3 do 16 mrt. 2017 NRC Handelsblad NRC Digitale editie

The graphic above has Dutch text, but I’ve added it to give you an idea of how elections have developed in the Netherlands from 1959 onwards and to illustrate why the Dutch were not as alarmed about the prospect of a Premier Wilders. The top graph represents all fractions and their seats in the past three elections, the red-barred graph on the left the number of fractions since ’59 and the one below the minimal number of fractions needed to form a coalition since then.

Foreign reports on the issue often portrayed the election as a fight between the Geert Wilders and the Premier at the time, Mark Rutte (VVD), where in fact is was Wilders against 27 other parties. With our tradition of coalition governments not one Dutchman expected a Canadian Trudeau-effect of a majority win, not even Wilders himself I should think. He could of course have become the largest party, and before the campaigns started that seemed a reasonable possibility. But it’s effects were further countered by all major parties promising to decline to form a coalition government with the PVV, denying Wilders the possibility of ever becoming a Premier.

2015-03-17 22:40:37 DEN HAAG – VV-fraction leader Geert Wilders (L) en Premier Mark Rutte after a debate

Trump’s election success in November 2016, which undoubtedly greatly influenced Wilders’ polling numbers, pushing him beyond that of Mark Rutte’s VVD, had made Wilders very cocky, crowning himself Premier even before the election campaigns were anywhere in sight. He adopted a lot of Trump’s rhetoric and communicated a lot through tweets and bullied some of the press. But as Trump’s star started to fade when he took office this year, so did Wilders’.

Wilders was responsible for most of his own decline. During the campaigns he was conspicuous by his absence; he didn’t join in the debates where more parties were present except for the last  debate between Rutte and himself only, he did few rallies – perhaps cautious because his earlier conviction for insulting a group of people and enticement to discriminate, and he had little contact with his base, which he could partly attribute to failing security measures. He was asked to release his party program, like all other parties do, but could offer no more than one sheet of paper with a few bullet points and a few [to be filled in later]s, but no plans whatsoever and ending with a damning “etcetera“. By election time Wilder’s polling numbers had come down already, and even though our own media tried to whip up a bit more tension by referring to the “forgotten voters”, Trump and Brexit, that never resulted in the anxiety felt across our borders.

So, with a poll attendance of over 80% – no, the Dutch have not all turned away from politics – Rutte’s VVD has lost seats but has come out on top with 33 seats, and Wilders has won 5 seats but hasn’t matched his peak of 2010 of 24 seats with only 20 now. Rutte is expected to form a new government, Rutte III, together with numbers three and four.

So is all well now in The Netherlands? In my opinion, not really. While populist Wilders may seem to be slowly on his way out, quite a few new right-wing populist have taken his place by way of Denk (3 seats, popular among Turkish-Dutch), Forum van Thierry Baudet (2 seats, popular among Alt-Right), and 50Plus has doubled in size (4 seats, popular among the elderly). Labour has been annihilated, while the CDA, a Christian coalition, had chosen to aggressively fill the nationalistic and anti-Islam shoes that Wilders had failed to fill in debates and thus has managed to resurface and to become the third-largest party after Rutte’s VVD and Wilders’ PVV. Rutte’s party is called a liberal party in Europe, which is not to be confused with American liberals; the VVD sits firmly on the right of the political spectrum and has been responsible for the austerity that nearly bled us dry in the past. In all likelihood the new government will consist of right wing VVD and CDA and centrum party D66 with an additional small party to obtain a majority, which will be a further shift to the right, while at the same time it has to govern with an unruly opposition of a diversity of Social Democrats and populist parties.

Feb 042017

Two weeks ago Dutch late night show presenter Arjen Lubach looked back on the week and made note of Donald Trump’s the inauguration speech. Especially Trump’s often  repeated “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first” made a big impression on comedian Arjen. He understood that the Dutch would be better off if they stayed on friendly terms with president Trump and to that end had made a video to introduce the Netherlands in a way the American president could relate to,  and perhaps be persuaded by to make The Netherlands second in his deliberations.

This video went viral within days, especially in Europe, but it has also crossed the Atlantic and has been also shared on C2NN. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can do so in the following subtitled clip from Arjen Lubach’s show.

The video made such an impact that Jan Böhmermann, who has a very similar late night show on German television made a video in which Germany introduces itself to Trump and askes to be considered second. But Böhmermann has taken things one step further. As he explains”, al great late night TV shows across the world are linked by a network of red telephones, which never have been used before, but now are used to ask the shows in every European country to make an introduction of their own country to Trump and air it in the coming weeks. So far 9 more countries, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Lithuania, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Estonia and Iceland, have said they will join in and the video’s that have been aired so far have been gathered at a site called everysecondcounts.eu which has “Come to EU. It’s huge. It’s the greatest EU in the world!” as it’s subtitle. It’s a the site is easy to use and clickable even with small hands.

The following is a clip of Böhmermann’s show in which he introduces the concept of introductory video’s for Trump. Germany’s video contribution starts at the 1:47 mark and lasts up to 4:52.

I can’t embed all of the You Tube videos here, so I’ll just give you the shortest ones made by Belgium and Switserland, but if you have time this weekend I can certainly recommend Lithuania’s and Portugal’s contributions.

For me a very strong asset of all these videos is that none of the makers have shied away from pointing out some (very) unpleasant aspects of their own society, either in history or presently, and mocking them by turning them into “selling points” to Trump.

Böhmermann stresses at the end of his show that Trump should be proud: “When the whole world stands up to make fun of you, president Trump, you have achieved something that is truly great”. He certainly has a point there; until now it has been virtually impossible to unite European countries on any issue, but the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency has done the impossible, at least where comedy is concerned. However there are also encouraging signs within the EU, which needs to find a new footing and some new form of unity as quickly as possible and stand on its own two feet. So thank you for that, America.


Cross-posted at http://www.care2.com/news/member/211280220/4034796

Nov 212016

hedgehog-looks-binocularsIT IS A LETTER THAT CHANGED WORLD HISTORY, writes the German newspaper Bild.  Friedrich Trump – yes, the grandfather of – in vain asked permission to be allowed to come back and stay in Germany early in 1905.  When that was denied, he returned to America, the country where his grandson soon will be the 45th president.

Friedrich Trump (1869-1918) was a 16-year-old from Kallstadt, Rhineland-Palatine, who as a barber’s apprentice had realized that there wasn’t going to be enough trade for him and knowing that he could be called to military service soon,  traveled to America to make fortune.  Trump apparently left secretly in the night, just leaving his mother a note.

He succeeded in amassing a fortune first, from 1894, by running a restaurant in Seattle’s Red Light District which included "Rooms for Ladies", a common euphemism for prostitution.  He then moved on to Monte Christo, Washington in 1894 and acquired some land through some backhanded dealing with the corrupt US Land Office in this gold and silver mining town. He didn’t become prosperous by mining himself, but by “mining miners” (from Blair, Gwenda (August 24, 2015). "The Man Who Made Trump Who He Is") by running another restaurant-brothel on the land he acquired in Monte Christo. By then he had become an American citizen. It’s interesting to note that Grandfather Trump was a true founding father of the Trump dynasty: he was elected to office, winning the 1896 election for justice of the peace by a 32-to-5 margin in the little town.

Friedrich Trump in 1918Friedrich Trump really made his fortune on the back of the Klondike gold rush when he set up a new business in British Columbia in 1898, opening the The Arctic House, which soon became one of thFriedrich Trump in 1918e largest and most decadent restaurants in that region of the Klondike. Of course this restaurant also advertised "Rooms for ladies.” But after a few years the government was about to crack down on prostitution, gambling and liquor and Trump saw it coming. He sold his share of the restaurant and left the Yukon. Biographer Blair wrote that "once again, in a situation that created many losers, [Trump] managed to emerge a winner."

He continued a business as a barber and hotel-owner in New York, but in 1905, he returned as a rich man to his homeland Germany, depositing his life’s savings of 80,000 marks, equivalent to $505,248 in 2016, in the bank there. But the authorities were neither impressed nor best pleased.  They didn’t want him back, because he had not fulfilled his military service and he was labeled a draft dodger.

In the letter Trump wrote to make his case to stay, he pleaded with the  "most-beloved, noble, wise and righteous” Bavarian Prince regent Luitpold to make an exception for him.  This “request in great servitude” was rejected.  The letter was dug up from the archives of the State immediately after the election of Donald Trump.

Bavaria didn’t want him and made no exception for him, so Friedrich Trump was made to understand that he had to pack his bags within months.  Eventually he would board a steamer on 1 July 1905, back to the US.  Three months later Fred Trump junior, the father of Donald, was born there.  

 Incidentally the real estate family later maintained for a long time that they are of Swedish origin. Friedrich Trump's son Fred denied his German heritage, instead claiming his father had been a Swede from Karlstad, a small but significant change to the German Kallstadt. This legend was also perpetuated by grandson Donald in his 1987 autobiography.
“They had many Jewish tenants and in those days it was best not to be German,” explained the family historian.

From Wikkipedia and the Bild article we really get a good sense of some of the strong family characteristics that are now ‘trademark’ of the Trump dynasty.

Cross-posted at Care2

Nov 102016


The outcome of the American Presidential election has sent a shock wave through the not-so United States, and it won’t come as a surprise that Donald Trump’s victory has left many others in the world quite stunned too.  As many here are still coming to grips with it and perhaps fear an overload of information, I won’t try to refine on the excellent overview Lynn gave of reactions of world leaders in her article “Winter is here” she posted on PP today. Instead I’ll give you the general idea of how the world is reacting to the new President of the United States of America through easy-digestible images, peppered with a tiny bit of text where needed.

Before I start with some front-pages of mainstream newspapers and magazines, let me tell you that I’ve tried to find some positive headlines on Trump’s victory, I really have. But I couldn’t find any; some neutral ones, yes, but not any really jubilant or laudatory ones. I think I’d have to widen my search an look beyond Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to find them. To get the general atmosphere across in the countries just mentioned I’ve picked out the not-so neutral ones.

For the following front-pages I am in debt to Britain’s Telegraph which also features a very nice (and short) video compilation of news headlines in their article Dear God, America what have you done?': How the world and its media reacted as Donald Trump became US President-elect'.





Most newspapers could muster some respect for the choice of the American people, but others just couldn’t.


And some have little or no respect for anyone, so they couldn’t bring themselves to do that for the 45th President of America, or for the First Lady, either.


With one or two exceptions, the front pages were not very enthusiastic about the election results, but they weren’t very offensive either. However, there’s no better way to get a point across than with humor and so I’ll switch to political cartoons to show how many in the rest of the world felt about Mr. Trump’s election.


Credit David Fitzsimmons/Cage Cartoons

Credit Matt/The Telegraph

Credit: Paul Voth

Credit: Alan Moir/The Sydney Morning Herald

Credit: Ruben L. Oppenheimer/NRC Handelsblad

Oct 202016


You might say that Donald Trump has put his foot in it in last night’s final Presidential Debate when the Jeff Flake, senator from Arizona, one of the swing-states twitters:
.@realDonaldTrump saying that he might not accept election results is beyond the pale
and when conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer from Fox News thinks that Trump blew his chances with this answer on accepting the results. “Political suicide.” Krauthammer called it because in his view Trump should have stopped the slide in this debate. The slide of people grudgingly going over to Clinton after holding out for a year. He thinks that people are not going to change their views on Clinton, but if they can change their views on Trump. Trump should have shown them that he is acceptable as president, not a radical. They don't want a radical who will challenge the foundations of the republic.

Right-wing New York Post-columnist John Podhoretz also comes to the conclusion that Donald Trump just handed Hillary Clinton the election with his refusal to be clear on what will happen if he loses the election.

Not accepting the results is the main theme of comments in many Western countries.  Anna Caldwell in from News Corp Australia Network blogs: “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump doubled down on controversial claims that the US election is rigged during a presidential debate, refusing to say he will respect the result.

Other news sites media commented on the debate, and on Trump in particular, in a more general fashion. Australian The New Daily quotes Bryan Cranston, a Swinburne University politics expert: “Trump’s biggest strength is himself, but it is also his weakness. Facts play little role in his campaign and his rhetoric and spin works well when he is only with supporters. [emphasis mine] But in a debate with an opponent you need facts, and the holes in his argument became dramatically transparent.”

Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter for the BBC describes how “after roughly half an hour of something resembling an actual policy debate about the Supreme Court, gun rights, abortion and even immigration, the old Donald Trump – the one who constantly interrupted his opponent, sparred with the moderator and lashed out at enemies real and perceived – emerged.” And concludes with “Mr Trump has called American democracy into question – and when he shakes that particular tree, it's impossible to determine who might get crushed by falling branches.

On the Dutch national news site Sander Warmerdam warns: “The big question remains what happens when Trump doesn't win this time. Clinton is doing very well in the polls. This debate will go down well with the angry Trump supporters but will move few undecided voters.” [my translation]

There is a certain feeling of unease emanating from the European and Australian comments since Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and that becomes most apparent in statements about the Trump’s voters pointing out that his supporters stay loyal to him no matter how many of his statement are debunked by fact checkers or how many times his statements are called bigoted, racist, misogynist or islamophobic. Much attention is payed to Trump voters not believing the facts that are revealed about his personal life and behavior nor of his disdain for them as group. The fact that about 40% of Americans still favor Trump is both baffling and worrying to the media, but also a grateful subject to keep ratings high.  


This has also been noted by TV  reviewers like Hans Beerekamp who noted: “I’m starting to find the outrage in the media about the American circus quite hypocritical, because many of the same media have always eagerly reported on the polarization and to a large extent have created it. It's TV that has given birth to Trump (Verdonk, Wilders), not the other way around. By the excessive media attention for their views, these have become more acceptable. [translation mine]" Beerenkamp refers here to Rita Verdonk and Geert Wilders, two Dutch populists, and by doing so uncovers the source of the unease felt by many in the West: large groups of voters, unhappy with the way their country is run, looking for leaders who appear to listen to them.

Europe and Australia are no strangers to a growing population of grudging, anti-establishment or protest voters who are willing to throw in their lot with populist politicians and parties. The Dutch have their Geert Wilders and his PVV, claiming to be Prime Minister after next year’s elections, France has her Marine Le Pen and her Front National who did very well in the local elections this year, Australia has seen the return of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation in the senate. And of course Nigel Farage and UKIP have made their indelible mark on the British Brexit referendum.

Dutch protester welcoming fugitives told off by Wilders supporter
AD/Jean-Pierre Jans

Britons, edged on by UKIP and some conservatives in the Tory party (Boris Johnson), have voted to leave the European Union and have left Europeans and its economies, especially that of the UK itself) in a state of shock and have made leaders more aware of the attraction populist have to dissatisfied and angry people, both in Europe and in America. Even “establishment” institute like the IMF have seen the writing on the wall and are willing to (partly) put blame where blame is due. In a report released at the beginning of the month the IMF said “Globally, concerns are growing about political discontent, income inequality and populist policies, threatening to derail globalization.” IMF chief economist Obstfeld said "that persistently weak growth that leaves lower-income people behind has fueled a political movement "that blames globalization for all woes" adding that the vote for "Brexit" was one example of this. He warned governments that "Without a determined policy action to support economic activity over the short and longer terms subpar growth at recent levels risks feeding on itself through the negative economic and political forces it is unleashing." In other words: governments should invest more in those that have not benefitted from growth in the past and decrease income inequality instead of widening the gap if they want to see economic growth in their country.

Words Hillary Clinton would do well to heed, because when she wins the election, Donald Trump may soon fade from the political scene, but his voters, and those of all the other populists in the world, will still be there.