2017/03/21 Leave a comment
Will share with some of my Dutch friends but interesting analysis of the results and possible implications for Canada:
The headline across the continent this week was, “Europe Breathes a Sigh of Relief.” Common sense and the ‘centrist’ Dutch prime minister had survived. But drill down just a little and a different picture emerges. Yes, conservative Mark Rute did survive, but he lost 25 per cent of his caucus. The biggest loser was the Dutch Labour party, which lost 75 per cent of its MPs.
The real winner, however, despite the media hysteria pre-election day was not Geert Wilders, who won only five new seats. It was the Green Left party, which tripled its caucus, D66, a liberal party, and the Christian Democrats, traditional progressive conservatives. Together these three doubled their size in the new Parliament.
What is the voters’ message to this complex collection of pizza slice parties? It’s very clear.
Those who indulged anti-immigrant, racist dog-whistle politics and more austerity — including PM Rute — were punished. Those who supported the EU, economic stimulus and a Holland open to immigration and the world were winners. Greasy Geert was the outlier for only the bewildered and angry.
This is a powerful message for progressive politicians. The giant of Dutch progressive politics, the Labour party, was decimated, after supporting austerity and flirting with anti-immigrant rhetoric. The Greens, in Holland as elsewhere, may be economically incoherent, but voters rewarded their toughness on austerity and immigrant bashing.
Of course, progressive politicians should never patronize the anger of working class white voters as “deplorable.” Their anger is well-founded and demands a response. But, no, those same politicians should never slime up to racist populists as a survival strategy. As my socialist grandmother used to say to right-drifting New Democrats, “There are two more believable capitalist parties than us, why would you think copying them will fool anyone?”
Wilders — a man who equates the Qur’an with Mein Kampf — is a long time former staffer in Rute’s party. His populist costume conceals a traditional conservative ideology. Why would any thoughtful progressive try to compete with his current poisonous politics by imitating him?
The great Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor observes that no one is borne racist, we learn it. Taylor cautions that each of us is genetically wired to be susceptible to a fear of “the other,” given the right fear-mongering baits. We have built a broad social consensus for an open, tolerant society here, but it is fragile. It can be fatally undermined by enough angry voices in hard times. This is what makes the dog-whistle racism of some Canadian Conservatives so despicable.As Taylor puts it, each society has the ability to swing from a dark place to a sunnier plateau — and back again. Working in Egypt during the Tahrir Spring, my young Yemeni female colleagues sighed sadly, as they recalled pictures of their bathing-suited mothers playing soccer with their male friends on the beach in 1960s Aden. Many Arab nations have travelled toward openness and freedom and then slid back again.
Taylor reminds us that from the revolution in 1789 to the late 1950s France was the most welcoming and socially inclusive society in Western Europe, where thousands of Russians, Poles, Asians and North African refugees had fled. What Changed? The Algerian War, in part, and a quiescent leadership elite that first tolerated and then promoted racial division, exclusion and hate.
The real roots of populist anger — rising inequality and falling incomes, rising barriers to the newly arrived and those starting out, and falling standards of living for a new generation — must be addressed boldly and creatively. But let’s drop the flirtation with racist politics in doing so.
Imagine a different, more courageous response …
A pioneer such as Conservative leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai celebrating his success, his qualification to lead and, yes, his difference. Would it not be a proud Canadian moment, if Obhrai delivered a thundering endorsement of anti-racist, pro-immigrant politics — a strong Progressive Conservative tradition — and then got a standing ovation from party members?
Or imagine New Democrat Jagmeet Singh, speaking in French to a crowd at the Quebec City mosque, delivering a ringing denunciation of the racial, religious and ethnic provocateurs, and having the crowd — including niqab-clad women and pur laine Quebecers — rise to their feet.
Let’s hope the Conservatives have learned the lesson of their niqab humiliation and that they have the wisdom to smack down those who would play dangerous games with the hard-won harmony and social cohesion we have built.
And let’s ensure that any Canadian progressive tempted to play footsy with racism understands the certainty of their political humiliation.