Politics in the Netherlands have been increasingly contentious of late. The most recent coalition government fell earlier this month, and now Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag has not only resigned her post, but says she might be leaving the country. This article in the London Times illustrates how liberal elites see themselves and their opponents. But if you read between the lines, reality begins to glimmer through.
Just two years ago, she was the great hope of Dutch politics, a cosmopolitan voice of reason, who made unprecedented gains for liberals by taking on the country’s far-right populists.
“Voice of reason” = liberal. The villains, as always are “far-right populists.” There is no such thing as a far left in Europe, just as it doesn’t exist in America.
Ms.Kaag is “cosmopolitan” because she hasn’t spent a lot of time in the Netherlands:
Kaag had worked for the UN in Lebanon before returning to national politics in 2017…. Part of the reason given for her return was to establish for her daughters, who had spent their childhoods abroad during her 34 year career overseas, a life in their home country.
So what is the problem?
The prospect of her departure, after being hailed as a champion for the traditional Dutch liberal consensus, comes as the country’s security services warn that growing “anti-institutional extremism” poses a new threat to society.
In 2021, Kaag represented a different path for the Netherlands after winning an unprecedented and surprise election performance, with her socially progressive, pro-European and welcoming to refugees Democrats 66 party, netting their best ever results.
But those policies are not popular these days in the Netherlands:
In a far cry from any sense of national unity, the Dutch AIVD, the equivalent of Britain’s MI5, has identified some 100,000 people who believe Holland is “ruled by an evil elite”.
We have people who hold the same opinion in the U.S. Are they wrong?
[I]n May this year, she broke down into tears on Dutch national television, admitting that she now lived in fear as a hate figure for populist attacks on the “cosmopolitan elite”. “My family would be relieved if I quit and we move from the Netherlands,” she said.
Like many Dutch politicians, Kaag lives under police protection. Last year a man brandishing a flaming torch was arrested outside her house and she was regularly greeted by angry mobs in visits to provincial towns.
I condemn all political violence and threats of violence, especially when they are uttered by politicians like Chuck Schumer. But the reality is that pretty much everyone who participates in public life gets threats of some kind.
The underlying issue is the direction of Dutch society and government:
Kaag has fallen victim to the increased polarisation of Dutch politics and the rise of what the country’s security services have called “anti-institutional extremism”.
“The anti-institutional extremist movement targets democratic authorities, including politicians and scientists,” the Dutch intelligence and security service warned in May.
“Supporters of this movement paint a picture that an ‘evil elite’ is in power in the Netherlands that wants to oppress, enslave or even murder the population. They argue that this elite has control over the government, large companies, the judiciary, science and newspapers and TV channels. And that this must be resisted.”
Sound familiar? If you are part of that elite–or rather, alleged elite–you are a “voice of reason.” If you are unhappy with the direction the elites are taking your country, you are an “anti-institutional extremist.”
But what are the sources of popular discontent? You have to read deep into the Times piece to get even a hint of what is going on:
Key to the new political underground are conspiracy theories, particularly related to the Covid lockdown and vaccination campaigns and climate change policies, that stretch far beyond the traditional far-right in terms of their reach.
We are starting to get warmer, again with echoes of what is happening in this country. But what about those “climate change policies”?
One notable fault-line in Dutch politics has become environmental policies, with an insurgent rural movement against plans to cut nitrogen emission in agriculture to meet European Union climate change targets.
The populist farmers’ party, the BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), has come from nowhere a year ago to become the second largest Dutch political party and probable kingmaker of a new government.
One continues reading, in hopes of finding out why the liberals’ environmental policies are so unpopular, but no such luck. For that, you have to go to a another recent Times story:
[T]he most dramatic — and politically explosive — impact of the Dutch war on nitrogen has been on its hugely productive farming industry: despite the country’s size, the Netherlands, with its 15 million cows and pigs, is the world’s second largest food exporter and has the world’s densest population of livestock.
It was a proposal in parliament in 2019 to halve livestock numbers that prompted protests by farmers and the decision to launch the BBB by Van der Plas, who began her journalistic career writing about the meat industry. The party took off in response to a wave of unrest last summer in which farmers blocked roads with manure and flaming hay bales, mounted demonstrations in town squares and hung the Dutch tricolour upside down.
So trying to destroy the country’s biggest biggest industry is perfectly reasonable, while opposing that destruction is “extreme.”
Destruction of agriculture isn’t the only disaster caused by the Netherlands’ “green” policies:
More than 21,500 people from outside Europe sought asylum in the Netherlands last year, according to the national statistics office, while tens of thousands more moved there to work and study. House building, meanwhile, is struggling to keep pace, with shortages most acute in Amsterdam and nearby Rotterdam and the Hague.
Part of the blame for the housing shortage is down to skills shortages and other familiar obstacles to construction familiar across the continent. But the industry has also been hit by a number of Supreme Court rulings in cases brought by environmentalists. These have obliged Dutch authorities to attempt to cut emissions of nitrogen, a big contributor to global warming.
The result, the industry claims, has been the cancellation or postponement of plans for thousands of building projects. It has also become more difficult to build roads to alleviate congestion on an already busy network.
In short, the disgruntled Dutch who think their country is going in the wrong direction are correct.
In the Netherlands as in the U.S., liberals complain that political factions are living in different realities:
André Krouwel, a Dutch political scientist and lecturer at Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit warned that Western democracies are entering a new era of “reality polarisation”.
“We are entering a new phase in western democracies beyond disagreement over policies to disagreeing over reality. We have now entered a world of reality polarisation,” he said. “It is not easy to bridge the reality gap.”
There is considerable truth to that. But whose version of reality is the right one? Certainly not the version that says we should kill half our livestock, stop fertilizing our fields, stop constructing buildings and highways, all while welcoming infinite numbers of immigrants from underdeveloped countries, so that we can impoverish ourselves with unreliable energy that will have zero measurable impact on the Earth’s climate.
The fundamental problem the world’s liberals are experiencing is precisely that their crazy plans are bumping up against reality.