The Netherlands has found itself at the centre of international attention, many around the world regarding their federal election as a portent of things to come. A year ago, it’s unlikely anybody would have cared about Dutch domestic politics, but since then rising populist nationalist sentiments have delivered two major upsets giving us Brexit and Trump. The pollsters never saw those coming, so when Geert Wilders, a bleached blond Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, right wing extremist started gaining ground, it was of no comfort to anyone that the polls said the best he could hope for was second place. But the leader of the far-right PVV failed to exceed these optimistic predictions, leaving centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte in office. Meanwhile, the centre-left Labour party collapsed in the polls, while the leftwing Greens surged ahead.
The most optimistic interpretation of the news coming from the Netherlands would be to see it as a sign that November 8th of last year was the high water mark for right-wing populism. That after an incompetent Trump administration took over the White House and embarked on a campaign of high speed fumbling, as it tried to juggle the interests of its disparate constituencies of financial institutions, familial business interests, the “economically anxious,” and white nationalists; the moment that bigots around the world thought would be theirs dissipated as quickly as it came. And while in the Netherlands the centre-right reestablished its pragmatic appeal to those who would flirt with the fringes of the Right, all around the far Left is awaking from its decades-long coma to address what has transpired in its absence.
A more pessimistic view would point out not only that Geert Wilder gained in parliamentary seats, but that the ruling centre-right VVD party moved rightwards to address the challenge presented by the Dutch nationalist’s insurgent party.
For a skeptic, the news may only be notable for the sudden international interest Dutch electoral politics has garnered; and may never have been a bellwether for global trends, regardless of what the outcome ended up being. Marine Le Pen still stands a chance of winning the French presidency, and it remains questionable whether or not her supporters will truly be discouraged by the tepid results for Wilder and company. Trump still has four years, ostensibly, as leader of the most powerful country in the world, and plenty of time to do a maximum amount of damage either through his flailing attempts to operate the levers of power, or by learning how to do his new job and actually succeeding at implementing his political platform.
Regardless, any day when a bleached asshole doesn’t win an election is a good day, and not all news is bad news.