Populists leading in Dutch polls: Thierry Baudet’s victory spun up the disintegration of the politically correct establishment

A political earthquake has shaken up the Netherlands. After provincial elections in late March a formerly minor party called Forum voor Democratie (FvD) has achieved a landslide victory from 0 to 13 seats, becoming the largest party to elect members to the 75-seat Senate come May. Party leader Thierry Baudet instantly pervades the Dutch political space. The way I see it, his victory was part of a trend that will continue and yield similar or even greater results for the national elections in 2021. Considering the concurrent self-destruction of the political establishment, it’s not inconceivable Thierry’s FvD could take 30 out of the 150 seats in Parliament – it’s currently at 28 in the polls. Why is someone who gets so much done, who absolutely cleaves into the cartel, and draws so many people in, met with so much distrust? 

The first time I met Thierry Baudet (I’ll permit myself this shameless act of circle-signaling) he was in a café in the Amsterdam neighborhood called the Jordaan, to be interviewed by the publicist Joshua Livestro, who has now radicalized to the left wing. That meeting will have been in the summer of 2014. Not that I was there for Thierry, mind you – I’d come to see Livestro because I wanted to start writing for his newly founded opinion website Jalta. I was there to do so the same as the politically ambitious journalist Annabel Nanninga and other editorialists who refuse to drink from the same cup as the Champagne Socialists and instead penetrate the fortress of power and morality. After the interview Livestro sat himself at the bar, sulking, and I decided to join the smokers outside first. I hadn’t smoked in years, but in no time I peered into the flame of Thierry’s lighter – and inhaled. He asked, clearly amused in his own arrogance, what I was doing here. Assumed I was “obviously left-wing, being a woman and all.” Indeed the venue had an almost exclusively male audience, among whom was also Theo Hiddema, who would later become the FvD’s second in command. So I snapped back at him that he evidently wasn’t interesting enough to attract women into his audience. The mood lightened at once. 

It is a long lane that has no turning. That night Livestro presented me with a sermon of criticism on Baudet – let’s call him that from now on – as well as four beers, and my coveted slot in the editorials. But Jalta has since disbanded and Baudet no longer does variety. Like so many men in the self- congratulating and self-preserving cartel of politics and the media, Livestro is the antithesis of all the energy, charm and confidence that Baudet embodies. Nothing frustrates mediocre career politicians and the grey suits of the press more than that colorful walking enigma who defies modern labels and criticism. Best of all he likes to catch his enemies off-guard, taunting them, unsettling them by quizzing them in Latin, rabblerousing over an MP’s poor taste in music and citing classics such as German philosopher Hegel’s piece on the Owl of Minerva. “Here at this table,” he quips in an old documentary where he tours his tiny Amsterdam apartment, “is where I concoct things that really upset left-wingers.” I suppose his motivation might boil down to just that. 

Like a river that has long burst its banks, he effortlessly meanders past obstacles to the point where onlookers wonder if there had been any hurdles in the first place. When other parties piously paused their campaign efforts for one day following a shooting incident in the city of Utrecht, he went right ahead with his rally in Scheveningen. He rose to the rostrum in military gear to criticize defense policy and called the ruling VVD party “a shitfest”. But then, he really isn’t aiming to elbow himself into a spot at the trough of political provender. No wonder. You can already hear the herd bleating: “Why can’t he just be normal?” 

Baudet isn’t interested in politics for the sake of politics (“that is beneath me”), but for the power to effect real change. He understands that without real political clout all his efforts in The Hague are fruitless. “Otherwise I might as well return to noveling,” he frequently remarks. His recent election victory was only the beginning. The real question is how he will proceed to wield his newly attained power. In fact, that very question was more than cause for panic, calls to violence and public meltdowns across the board. TV show Jinek sent out a desperate tweet: “Do you know anyone at all who voted for FvD, because we’d really like to interview them.” Political party D66: “How on earth did he win with an empty electoral program?” Newspaper AD: “He only got into politics for the money.” This slapstick series of fallacies, cynicism and virtue signaling in the wake of the March elections is an even greater hysteria than the one seventeen years ago, when another dark horse Pim Fortuyn rallied his way from 0 to 26 seats in Parliament. So the current fuss is a collective mental breakdown that only goes to show how many people literally haven’t been paying attention the last couple of years. That tiny dot on the horizon that our propaganda mills have continued to write off as a rudderless dinghy, turns out to be an inbound ship full of real people who want to set a proper course for this country! 

Just like in 2002, journalists and politicians don’t have a shred of an explanation for the way Baudet revitalized and replenished the right-wing conservative landscape. If they had only surveyed the political waters, Baudet’s success wouldn’t have seemed such a mystery to them, but simply the result of two factors. 

First of all there is a certain departure from old political ways. “The right-wing revolution”, as I read somewhere, is an exact reflection of Baudet’s idiosyncratic, but certainly also strategic approach. By consistently declining the part of ‘controlled opposition,’ a Dutch position that only enforces a fault line between left and right, as well as by dismissing the idea that getting to play second fiddle is its own reward, he has remained a free man rather than a puppet for their stage. Unsurprisingly our Prime Minister Mark Rutte often suggests that Baudet’s conduct “is all an act”, while actually it’s the other way around. 

The second factor is that the party as a whole touched a deep nerve in society by being vocal critics of the EU, of immigration and of the Dutch government’s extortionate demands for climate solutions. Baudet in fact rejects the green zeal as “heresy”. Unsurprisingly the FvD has struck a chord with the part of society that wants to hold on to fundamental democratic principles and the (to some apparently hilarious) concept of ‘het eigene’, a Dutch amalgam of self-ownership and authenticity. A part that wants, to paraphrase in Baudet’s style, to hold on to logos, ratio and the human condition. Because an increasing number of people agree that the madness and collective sacrifice to the God of The Received Opinion is becoming too much. In other words: the bandwagon of the Great Global Revolution, which all other parties have long jumped onto, has got ahead of itself. The passengers did not see it, and some still don’t, but those who were derided as laggards do. That is the deception and “arrogance of power” that Baudet referred to in his latest victory speech. 

This Baudetian revolution is not just reactionary. By its very nature it is more substantial and potentially more vigorous than the establishment realizes, because it reconnects directly to the laws of human nature, to the idea of ‘the individual properly understood’. Baudet, like other successful right-wing conservatives in Europe, understands that liberalism has left people feeling atomized and unhappy. People feel the need for community and tradition, and a nation state in which these traditions can be embedded. It simply can not be idealized away, though the left has certainly tried over the last several decades. In recent years the EU has shown a totalitarian face in trying to erect its own utopia. It regulates the internet, takes away sovereignty and pushes its own plans. Concurrently the Dutch people have been reduced to obedient cattle, consumers. They have alternately been called, ‘climate truants’, ‘angry white men’, ‘racists’, ‘right’ and ‘left’, ‘islamophobes’, ‘polluters’ and ‘complainers’. And yet they are fed a weekly dose of propaganda that they are supposedly the ‘happiest people in the world’. Yet it’s not that easy to teach people to doublethink. This current situation, the demonization of an entire people until they rift into opposing factions just so the EU can self-identify as relevant and necessary, was an inevitable consequence of the rocky basis on which the elite all throughout Europe have built their semi-religious powerhouse. But there is nothing holy about their power grab. 

When Forum voor Democratie took flight in the polls, it was much more than a million voices saying “no” to the elite. A theater of illusion depends on smoke and mirrors. Without either, the curtain falls. The government coalition, administrators and the public media were all in service of that illusion. So now they have not only been beaten in the elections, but their very existence is threatened. Let’s not underestimate how fiercely and desperately they will fight for their survival, even if they know that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. After all, they don’t have a plan B and never will. Why would they, when they devoutly believe they hold the Truth, bring Stability and are the Answer to the dangers of ‘the right’? 

The same promise of virtue has all center parties (in Europe) shifting to the extreme left, the ‘political’ corner that will pick up arms if necessary. When journalists go into overdrive upon seeing Baudet, perhaps thinking him a ghost from the 1930s, they’re not actually responding to the electoral victory – or God forbid, the ideas – of Forum voor Democratie, but to the very knowledge that they are completely dependent on the old establishment that will fall like a house of cards if anyone of real influence were to change their mind. With the possible exception of Dutch columnist Bas Heijne, who wrote a scathing editorial, no one was able to rise above his or her narrow self- interest and to write on the Great Danger of Forum voor Democratie in comprehensible human language. In what was primarily an obedient recital of the reigning narrative, everyone reported on what they deemed ‘the new fascism’ or ‘troubling developments’ and busied themselves with virtue signaling their obedience. And so, in one fluid motion, Baudet’s victory spun up the disintegration of the politically correct establishment – who only have themselves to blame. “The center will not hold”, the poet W.B. Yeats wrote in 1919. 

Indeed the disintegration of the old order is the real news of this past month. There are many subtle clues. For example, if you enter ‘Thierry Baudet’ on the photo archive of the national news site ANP, you will first see photos of comedian Freek de Jonge. An angry man photographed from different angles at a Writer’s Ball, where he got up and started an impromptu sermon about “making a statement”. Hardly a coincidence that another attendee of the same venue was De Jonge’s colleague Youp van ’t Hek, who referred to Baudet in his column as “The Great Charlatan”. 

Now more than ever we can see just how worn-out and mediocre Dutch politics have been. Each party now seems to be speaking platitudes through a Plain Jane, a heart monitor that should pacify and stabilise the country – and nothing else. Every jab at Baudet is a projection of the miserable status quo in which everyone should have remained ensnared. The distrust of Baudet, the comparisons to Hitler and the 1930s rhetoric reflects these politicians’ own underlying radicalism, their dangerous collectivism and the urge to destroy that wells up when they are reminded of their own shortcomings. Baudet is not the answer to everything; he is just the fuse in the powder keg of an untenable situation. We, the people, will have to do the rest ourselves. So let’s do this right. 

Translation Ilona Paulis