I will defer to my readers who know more about the Dutch political scene than I do — and I don’t know much — but the more I think about Trump, the more he reminds me of the maverick Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.
Remember him? He was the colorful, openly gay sociology professor who came to national prominence in Holland mostly by speaking plainly about the country’s immigration problem. The Dutch had (and maybe still do) a serious problem with Muslim immigration, chiefly because immigrants arrived unsuited to Dutch life, and unwilling to assimilate. Violent crime rates, heavily associated with Muslim immigrants, were soaring in Muslim-dominated areas of Dutch cities, and the Dutch establishment — politically correct to the marrow — could not bring itself to speak of it, much less deal with it.
Fortuyn did. He was brash, and knew how to work the media. He spoke to the legitimate fears and concerns of the Dutch people about the unassimilated Muslims among them, and he framed the problem as the failure of multiculturalism. As I wrote in a 2002 National Review article about the Fortuyn phenomenon:
What increasingly bothers the Dutch are freeloaders. Though the unemployment rate is just over 2 percent, 18 percent of the Dutch labor force is on the dole to some degree, with 11 percent receiving occupational-disability benefits under the widely abused system. Immigrants, who have a high unemployment rate, are another irritant. Eight percent of Holland’s 16 million people are of foreign descent, with more than half of them Muslims, mostly from Turkey and Morocco. Holland’s four largest cities–Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht–are home to the majority of immigrants. Almost half the population of Rotterdam, where Fortuyn launched his political career, is of foreign descent. This has had unfortunate consequences. Earlier this month, the trade association representing Holland’s supermarkets announced that it would be shutting down stores in the immigrant-heavy inner cities unless the government got serious about policing the areas.
That’s because young immigrant men from these neighborhoods are disproportionately represented in Dutch crime statistics. According to criminologist Chris Rutenfrans, a study in 2000 found that 33 percent of all criminal suspects are foreign-born, as are 55 percent of prison inmates. An astonishing 63 percent of those convicted of homicide are immigrants–Moroccans, Antilleans, and sub-Saharan Africans are the chief culprits. “The reason always given to explain these statistics is that they live in deprived circumstances,” says Rutenfrans. “But other minorities are similarly deprived, and they aren’t criminals.”
Some Muslims bring with them a culture of religious extremism, encouraged in part by religious schools–at least one-third of which are funded by the Saudis, according to a government report. The report also revealed that 20 percent of Holland’s Islamic schools receive funding from the radical Islamic organization Al-Waqf al-Islami, or have radical Muslims on their boards. The government warned that the country’s Islamic schools showed very little commitment to preparing their students for integration into Dutch society. More troubling, the government intelligence service warned as long as a decade ago that the Netherlands was becoming a center of Islamic terrorist recruitment and operations. Since September 11, terrorism experts have warned that violent Islamic extremists are conducting operations in Holland, in part because the country’s deeply ingrained taboo against intolerance gives them relative freedom from scrutiny.
The Dutch establishment — political, business, academic, media — is small and insular, and fairly uniform in its opinions. And the one thing they all agreed on was that Pim Fortuyn was a monster. The media labeled him a “far right” politician, which was transparently not true. He was no Le Pen, no Haider, not even a Filip de Winter. He was, as I said, socially liberal (and personally a libertine) and pro-market — basically a conventional center-right European politician. His outspoken opposition to immigration and multiculturalism — even though he did so not from an old, authoritarian, Christian point of view, but from that of someone who wanted Holland to remain morally liberal — is what earned him the hatred of the establishment, and the support of large numbers of Dutch voters. He was on track to be elected prime minister, but a left-wing radical assassinated him during the 2002 campaign.
From what I can tell, the main differences between Trump and Fortuyn are three: 1) Trump is an angry blowhard, while the intellectual Fortuyn was a smooth and genial; 2) immigration and multiculturalism were (and may still be) much more serious problems for the Netherlands than they are for the United States; and 3) Fortuyn, though not a professional politician, had been involved in local politics in Rotterdam.
Their main similarity, though, is that they speak to and for a great number of people who are simply fed up with the establishment, and see them as unresponsive to their needs. The more the elites attacked Fortuyn, the more it helped him, precisely because his existence was a rebuke to the allegedly decadent status quo they embodied.
UPDATE: Don’t miss this excellent Michael Brendan Dougherty column in which he says that Trump may not make it, but what Trump stands for is a potential realignment not only of American politics, but global politics. Excerpts:
Because most media members are on the center-left and attached to cosmopolitan interests, they view anxiety about immigration as an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. That considerably oversimplifies the matter.
Yes, exactly as the media did with Fortuyn, who was no radical rightist but attacked high immigration and multiculturalism as threats to secular values and the welfare state. More MBD:
If the old ideologies no longer make sense, it’s not a surprise that a GOP elite dominated by cosmopolitan, pro-immigration Wall Streeters is getting winded in its attempt to chase after the Republican base, which wants government hands off their Medicare and a few 30-foot walls along the Mexican border. Trump may turn out to be a blip in this election cycle. But some days Trumpism looks like the future. Instead of parties divided by questions of political economy — crudely speaking, socialism or capitalism — we may be having debates between the globalized economy and actual communities: market or nation. The character of cities and places will be put against the demands of an invisible hand. Parties committed to diversity and breaking up the traditional cultures of their nations will find themselves allied with big business and the engines of the global market. Parties committed to preserving the national character may find themselves defending the 20th century’s legacy of national welfare states.
In other words, get ready for a hyper-capitalist left and an anti-capitalist right.
In his way, Fortuyn got there first. He was not anti-capitalist, but he attacked multiculturalism and immigration for the sake of preserving what is distinct about his country and its institutions — including the welfare state. The establishment didn’t know what to do with him because he was basically a libertine, secular statist whose signature issue was speaking against religious and social conservatives imported from alien cultures.
When I think of Trump’s appeal, I think about the conversations we used to have at the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News years ago. All of us involved in the discussion had good private health insurance, so none of us had to use the city’s public hospitals, which were jammed by immigrants, many of them in the country illegally, demanding health care. If we were poor or working-class citizens — white, black, or brown — who depended on the public hospitals (or for that matter, the public schools in small towns or non-white suburbs), the immigration problem would probably have looked a lot different. But we weren’t, so immigration more often than not appeared as a matter of socially tolerant liberalism and pro-business conservatism. People of all races who weren’t well-off enough to have good private health care, to put their kids in private schools, or to move to suburbs with good public schools — who spoke for them? Who speaks for them?