Best columns: Europe
How Wilders’ loss is still his gain
Anti-immigrant populist Geert Wilders didn’t win last week’s Dutch elections, said Ulko Jonker in the Financieele Dagblad, but his xenophobic message still triumphed. Wilders, the wild-haired firebrand who wants to close mosques and ban the Quran and the hijab, fell short of expectations but nevertheless emerged as the second-largest political force in the country—his Freedom Party went from 15 to 20 seats in the 150-seat parliament. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy remained the largest group in parliament, but lost eight seats, taking 33. Rutte only won re-election by peppering his stump speeches with dog whistles about a “silent majority” that would no longer let immigrants come here and “abuse our freedom.” Rutte brags that he has saved the Netherlands by stopping “the wrong kind of populism” from taking over. But that implies there is “a right kind of populism,” which is dubious. Wilders forced Rutte to tack right and embrace a populist-lite position, focusing his campaign around refugees and integration. The default narrative now is that the Netherlands is a nation besieged by Muslim immigrants. “Nuance has long disappeared from the public domain,” as an us-versus-them mentality takes over.
How Trump treats his friends
President Trump’s false allegation that British intelligence bugged Trump Tower has upended the U.K.’s primary alliance, said The Guardian. It all started with a series of typically ill-reasoned, “offthe- cuff tweets” from Trump earlier this month in which he claimed that he’d been wiretapped by former President Obama. After the entire political establishment said the allegation was without merit, Trump should have apologized, or at least kept silent. Instead, he had spokesman Sean Spicer double down. Spicer repeated an unfounded assertion by a Fox News commentator that Obama had Britain’s GCHQ spy agency eavesdrop on Trump, bypassing the U.S. chain of command.
Given that a cornerstone of the U.S.-U.K. alliance is an agreement not to spy on each other, the outrageous charge provoked GCHQ to make “an unprecedented break with its normal refusal ever to comment.” It said the claims were “nonsense, utterly ridiculous, and should be ignored”—strong words from a country long obsessed with being “America’s obedient ally.” Clearly, “Trump doesn’t do alliances,” and that is grim news for post-Brexit Britain. Prime Minister Theresa May has promised Britons that after our split from the EU we will be an internationalist country, which means we will need allies. Yet she “spurns good ones in Europe while trusting an unreliable one in Washington.”