Act Normal or Go Away

Wilders’s argument is, in effect, that multiculturalism is the opposite of diversity. At a Koblenz conference hosted by Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, he warned in that the totalitarianism of the EU and political correctness would reduce the wonderful variety of nations to a “uniform multicultural society.” (He also said that “women are afraid to show their blonde hair,” which is new to me.) But he owes so much to the “politically correct” vocabulary of “rights” and “identity” that he claims to reject.

Dutch Election Diary

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, writes a letter to all Dutch people (“aan alle Nederlanders”).1 In the version that appears in papers on January 22, 2017, his face fills the left side of the page and the text fills the right side. “Er is iets aan de hand met ons land,” it begins: There is something wrong with our country—but the phrase is colloquial, like something’s happening, or something’s up. Then he complains that “some people” are behaving so poorly in this otherwise fortunate country, as if they’re “ready to throw away all that we, as a country, have worked so hard to achieve.” The dog-whistled “some people” lets the reader fill in the blank: Muslims, immigrants, children of immigrants. The letter reaches a xenophobic crescendo, but it’s a chatty, get-it-off-your-chest kind of xenophobia: “I can understand when people think: If you so fundamentally reject our country, I’d rather you leave. I feel that way, too. Act normal or go away.” That last line—act normal or go away—is the kicker that gets the attention. “Doe normaal of ga weg.”

Everyone I know here sees the letter for what it is: an attempt to divert voters from Geert Wilders, the so-called Dutch Trump, to Rutte’s liberals ahead of the March 15 parliamentary elections. Wilders calls for the “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands, speaks of “Moroccan scum,” dyes his hair an arctic blond, tweets a lot, is technically the only member of his political party (which sometimes leads in the polls), made a cameo at the Republican National Convention, and has lived under constant police protection for twelve years. Rutte’s letter doesn’t propose, say, banning the Koran. That’s one of Wilders’s impossible planks. Instead it calls for a change of “mentaliteit.”

A lot of people I know dismiss Rutte as a calculating, uncharismatic figure, a Clintonian triangulator but clumsy about it. He’s proudly antivisionary. He wears those rimless eyeglasses that every male politician in Europe seems to wear. Is it normaal to be so dismissive of Rutte? It might be. He says shaking hands is normaal, and so are listening to each other, respecting teachers, and working hard. But spitting on bus drivers, harassing gay people, calling “normal Dutch people” racists, and littering? Niet normaal. Rutte’s letter also strikes a Nixonian note when it appeals to “de stille meerderheid”: the silent majority. That is one of several Americanisms I’ve seen transmogrified into Dutch in this weird year. I don’t know whether that adapted Americanism is normaal. What about drinking buttermilk at lunch even though you’re a grown man? I see a lot of that here. Or wearing jeans to a funeral, which I also see—is that normaal?

I will never claim a deep understanding of Dutch politics, but I’ve been trying to get a handle. There are twenty-eight parties on the ballot this year, all gunning for some portion of the 150 seats of the Dutch Parliament. Some are the longstanding parties that date back at least several decades. A coalition of Rutte’s liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD) and the center-left Partij van de Arbeid (Labor Party, or PvdA) has governed since 2012. Both parties date to the 1940s. The religiously rooted parties of the late-19th and mid-20th centuries withered in the 1960s as the traditional “pillars” of Dutch society (Protestant, Catholic, Socialist) broke down. Those old Protestant and Catholic parties merged into the Christen Democratisch Appèl (CDA) in 1980. The Socialist Party has gone through various iterations since the 1970s, and its logo is a tomato because tomato-throwing is a Dutch socialist pastime.

One of the parties that emerged from Dutch “depillarization,” D66, has had its ups and downs since its founding in 1966, but has hit a genteel, progressive, Helvetica stride. For some reason I notice the D66 posters around Amsterdam more than I notice others, and its motto—Goed werk, goede zorg, goed onderwijs (good work, good healthcare, good education)—looks good in that responsible font.

Most of the other parties are newish, or are dissident spinoff parties. Some of the new parties have their own dissident spinoff parties. There are more left parties than right, which could indicate either the strength of the left or its dilution. DENK—the imperative form of “think”—is a pro-immigration party founded by MPs of Turkish descent. It’s center-left, but faces accusations of being an Erdogan puppet, and it’s tarred by equivocation about the Armenian genocide. Artikel 1, also a pro-immigrant party, takes its name from the opening article of the Dutch constitution, which says that everyone “who finds themselves in the Netherlands” shall be treated equally. (What about people still looking for themselves in the Netherlands?) The same article forbids racial, religious, and gender discrimination.

The GroenLinks (Green-Left) Party dates to 1989 but has the spark of newness and youth. The 50Plus party, for pensioners, was formed in 2009 and has the spark of age and curmudgeonliness. (It turns out the leader of the 50Plus party used to edit an important Amsterdam gay magazine, the Gay Krant. He’s had some scandals, too—not about being gay, but about not paying pensions at the Gay Krant.) The Partij voor de Dieren (Party for Animals) has a couple seats in Parliament, and its party leader is the only woman who participated in the debates. The name, suggesting a limited animal-welfare party, belies their intellectual profundity: their platform looks beyond anthropocentrism, beyond the imperative of economic growth.

There are also performance art parties, like the Piratenpartij (Pirate Party), and the Niet Stemmers (Non-Voters), who promise to not vote on anything. Richard Hofstadter compared third parties in American politics to bees: they sting once and then they die. No dead bees in Holland!

More people are “undecided” than in 2012, but this means something different than in the US. (The word used for undecided voters, zwevende, suggests that they’re floating.) As the last election day drew near, it was clearer who the main players would be, so voters had a clearer tactical calculation to make: for instance, you might vote for the VVD or the PvdA even if your heart was with, say, GroenLinks, just because you wanted to fend off Wilders’s PVV. “Voting your conscience” works differently in a parliamentary system.

But after several years of a governing coalition of VVD and PvdA, there’s been no such consolidation or clarity as March 15 approaches. The VVD looks poised to lose seats, as does its coalition partner PvdA. Smaller parties look poised to gain. Progressive eyes have turned to the handsome, 30-year-old, Moroccan-Dutch-Indonesian leader of the GroenLinks party, Jesse Klaver, who has Justin Trudeau hair and speaks of “hope and change.” Dutch analogs of the Daily Show mock him as a sort of Obama-lite, but I think that’s a fish in a barrel, joke-wise.

The horrible Geert Wilders is the one everyone outside the Netherlands is watching, which is interesting because within the Netherlands he is a weird recluse. And it is because of Wilders that people are reading Dutch tea leaves for clues to the European future. This is the first of several ominous European elections this year. Will there be a Nexit? Is Wilders hideously correct that a “Patriotic Spring” will bloom across the land?

Wilders’s American connections do illuminate the perverse Atlanticism at work in our era’s political collapse. His party’s largest donations have come from the American right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center, and he’s contributed several “EXCLUSIVE” columns to Breitbart over the past year. They have not received much attention, partly because they are terrible. Some read like crappy high school essays. The column from January 2016 that heralds a “Patriotic Spring” opens with the Wikipedia definition of “revolution.” (“‘A revolution,’ Wikipedia says, ‘is a fundamental change in political power or organizational structures that take place in a relatively short period of time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities.’”)

For American readers, Wilders extols “the great Ronald Reagan,” and I’m intrigued by Reaganisms adapted to the purposes of rabid Dutch ethno-nationalism. Reagan’s applause line about “the nine most terrifying words in the English language” being “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” becomes Wilders’s attack on the European Union. “All over the West, we have been governed by fools, saying: ‘We are from the government and we bring you a tsunami of non-Western asylum seekers, an explosion of crime, and the Trojan horse of Islam.’” So many metaphors! But “tsunami” is his favorite.

I moved here five years ago to teach American Studies at the University of Amsterdam. It has been strange and sad and surreal to watch American politics from afar, while also playing the role of “America expert.” On November 9, friends and colleagues offered me their condolences, which was kind of them but unnerving. In the wake of the election I heard a fair amount of Dutch commentary and conversation about it—or at least Amsterdam commentary and conversation. None of the commentaries were dire enough for me.

Sometimes I heard people say something like, “It’s better that it’s out in the open, because having things out in the open is better than having them fester under the surface”—as if Trumpism were a painful vomiting that a body politic has to endure for better health in the long term. (I should note that this is a country where people curse by shouting the names of diseases.) This way of thinking about Trump might exemplify a typically Dutch faith in deliberation. It might also bespeak an outsized faith in American institutions. I find myself telling everyone that everything is fragile, that nothing good comes of this.

It is common here to treat American politics as a faraway circus. It is ghastly entertainment, but it’s still entertainment. In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, with all the Russian dossiers and election-hacking and worse-even-than-you-expected cabinet picks, friends said things like, “Now he’s gone too far—they’ll have to stop him!” They said this not with alarm but with expectation, because they would project Dutch parliamentary deliberation onto the American scene, and conjure some civilized, moderate “they” who would step in to do the stopping.

Maybe Dutchness lies in the presumption that the universe is orderly and order-able.

There have been protests here, too. The Women’s March was heartening. Thousands gathered on the Museumplein; splashed across the Rijksmuseum happened to be a banner picture of Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit to Amsterdam. I saw some of the same signs that appeared at American marches. BAAS IN EIGEN BUIK—boss of my own belly. There was the familiar mix of sincerity and snark: MIKE PENCE USES INTERNET EXPLORER.

After the Muslim ban I went to a smaller but still vivid demonstration at Schiphol airport, in solidarity with the airport protests in the US. I saw a sign that read:





It’s a moment for the Sinclair Lewises of Europe to ask, can it happen here? Or: can it happen here again? Maybe these vertiginous inversions are not surprising during the collapse of the post-1945 international order.

The specter of comparisons looms, but it also generates the contrary insistence that no, what’s happening here is so uniquely or ridiculously Dutch that non-Dutch people like me won’t really get it. Take Wilders: Yes, the “Dutch Trump” label fits because Wilders writes for Breitbart and his money comes from the American far right. And yes, he celebrated Trump’s victory along with the rest of the European right. He’s used the hashtag #MakeTheNetherlandsGreatAgain, though more often he says “make the Netherlands ours again.”

But he also emerges from a particularly Dutch historical, postcolonial situation. One of the most interesting things I’ve read about Wilders is a long essay from 2009 by the cultural anthropologist Lizzy van Leeuwen in De Groene Amsterdammer that reflects on his “Indo” background, about which he’s been cagey. Wilders “stems from a mixed-blood, colonial family from the Netherlands Indies,” van Leeuwen observes, and maybe his success has some relation to the Netherlands’ failure to grapple with its colonial past. If that’s true, then Wildersism is not as congruent with Trumpism as it seems. Van Leeuwen suggests that Wilders is part “populist” and part postcolonial revanchist; it’s the latter part that explains at least some of his idiosyncrasies.

The figure in recent Dutch politics who resembled Trump even more than Wilders does was Pim Fortuyn—the bald, vulgar, dashing, dickish, Islamophobic provocateur who almost became prime minister in 2002. He cultivated a pseudo-businessman vibe and railed against the scourge of “political correctness.” Fortuyn was ahead of the Trumpian curve, style-wise. He introduced a carnivalesque spectacle into staid Dutch politics: a charismatic, libidinal homonationalist who railed against Moroccan migration while bragging about sex with Moroccan boys in dark rooms. (I only became aware of the term homonationalism after moving here. Wilders also carries that torch of gay-friendly Islamophobia, and his cameo at the Republican National Convention was at an LGBT event, amid signs that said Twinks4Trump.) Fortuyn’s assassination by a Dutch animal rights activist just before the 2002 election shocked the country. (The assassination in 2004 of the public intellectual and anti-Islamic provocateur Theo van Gogh by a Moroccan-Dutch man is the other key event in this grisly history. Wilders’s constant police protection began the same year.) The parable of Fortuyn explains some of the liberal Dutch reactions to Trump, such as the idea that it’s somehow healthy to let Trumpism run its course: Fortuynism, the thinking goes, was never allowed to expire of its own toxicity within the orderly deliberations of Dutch politics.

And what of the Wilders voter? Dutch political commentary in the wake of Trump’s victory speaks of the same bubbles, the same epistemic gap between the cosmopolitan hub and the provincial backwater. There are Dutch variations on the American call to empathize with the so-called white working class. Complaints about the EU’s open market resemble complaints about NAFTA. The Dutch right wing complains about the migration of Polish laborers in recent decades, and the Socialist Party throws its tomatoes at EU financiers. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that Polish workers are rapists and murderers—those accusations are reserved for Muslims.

But the hinterlands of this Maryland-sized country also have rhythmic and orderly bike lanes. So I don’t know how far my empathy with the “typical Wilders voter,” if such a person exists, is supposed to extend. And because things here aren’t abject and terrible, it’s hard for me to believe that Dutch xenophobia is the toxic manifestation of some legitimate economic grievance.

One refrain is: Islam is a totalitarian ideology that threatens the extinction of the Dutch species! Wilders deploys this one when he speaks of a “tsunami” of Muslims. The EU is often included in his totalitarian soup, too. He uses all these terms loosely, but this refrain hints at a crusade against Islam in defense of Dutchness or Western civilization.

Another refrain is gentler, and it isn’t only Wilders’s PVV that utters it: We are full! We are just a small country, and all we ask is to be left alone to doe normaal in our Maryland-below-sea-level. Laat Nederland Nederland zijn: Let the Netherlands be the Netherlands. Let us have our normaal blackface Christmas tradition, which by the way has nothing to do with race because Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is only black because he came down the chimney and because it’s a charming tradition for kids and anyway even if Zwarte Piet is black, how can it be racist if we like Zwarte Piet? He is so funny and acrobatic!

Forgive me, reader. I have dragged you into the “Zwarte Piet discussie,” but there’s no avoiding it here. One minute you’re talking about migration and “assimilation,” or about the distribution of European wealth, and the next thing you know you’re talking about Dutch blackface while also admitting that the discussion about Dutch blackface is tiresome. Tiresome but symptomatic: Arnon Grunberg was right that the Zwarte Piet debate “underscores how deep within the Netherlands’ prosperous and safe society lies the fear of losing identity, undoubtedly fueled by globalization, migration, and the notion that the European Union is gradually doing away with the European nation state.” A second level, I think, is that accusations of racism are considered somehow “American” here, as if the vocabulary itself were an imposition from elsewhere, and from above. The inversion of anticolonial discourse is ingenious. Can the white Dutch subaltern speak in the empire of political correctness? The United Nations condemned Zwarte Piet in August 2015, which raised a lot of Dutch hackles. What business does the UN have meddling in authentic indigenous traditions?

As an outsider, it’s hard to access or evaluate that Dutch sense of loss. I can only orbit it. Wilders’s argument is, in effect, that multiculturalism is the opposite of diversity. At a Koblenz conference hosted by Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, he warned that the totalitarianism of the EU and political correctness would reduce the wonderful variety of nations to a “uniform multicultural society.” (He also said that “women are afraid to show their blonde hair,” which is new to me.) But he owes so much to the “politically correct” vocabulary of “rights” and “identity” that he claims to reject. Dutch roots, Dutch pride, claims to distinctive folklores. I guess all the European nationalists are closet cultural relativists, on some level. Wilders combines an ethno-nationalist, identitarian victimology with a militant assertion of Western superiority.

So while the rest of the world reads the Dutch tea leaves for clues to the European future, Dutch politics turns inward, to the vague question of Dutch “identiteit” and its physical and spiritual borders. GroenLinks’s Jesse Klaver, of the Trudeau hair and the “Jessiah!” nickname, has been the most eloquent on this front. Trudeau hair with an unbuttoned collar is our moment’s marker of political destiny. Klaver’s unwrinkled face is all over town. Most of my students are voting GroenLinks, and they like him even if they admit he’s too pretty. A student I saw with a GroenLinks flyer told me that Klaver’s hair had been Photoshopped to add a hint of Romneyite grey around the temples—that’s how preposterously young he is.

Rhetorically, though, he reaches back farther than other candidates to find a usable liberal past. He speaks of Dutchness in the same spirit that Obama invoked American exceptionalism: as a liberal epic. Nederland is . . . vrijheid. Tolerantie. Empathie. Freedom, tolerance, empathy. It’s catchy. He creates a “wij-gevoel”: an inclusive “we-feeling.” The modern myth of Dutch hypertolerance is of relatively recent vintage, but Klaver projects it as far back as the 1581 Plakkaat van Verlatinghe, when the Dutch cast off the yoke of Spain. This is roughly analogous to Americans celebrating the Puritans as paragons of religious freedom. It’s absurd, but it works. And someone has to balance Wilders’s exclusive, embattled, bitter “pride.”

Friday, March 10. Election day is next week, and every day there is a major article in an international newspaper assessing the Wilders threat. They’re so authoritative! “How the Netherlands Made Geert Wilders Possible.” “How Geert Wilders, the Dutch Trump, Wins Even If He Loses.” “The ‘Dutch Trump’ Is Even More Toxic than the Real Thing.” “Why the Dutch Are Drawn to Right-Wing Populist Geert Wilders.” “Why Geert Wilders Is Taking Over Dutch Politics.” It is hard to keep up. Either Wilders marks a break from Dutch traditions of tolerance, or he represents the bubbling up of some national pathology.

Is it possible to measure the overall effect of Trump on European politics? Has Trumpism been a boon to the Dutch right? Or has the disaster of Trump’s first weeks backfired for the “Patriotic Spring,” such that even a Wilders supporter might recoil? I always end up asking some convoluted version of this loaded yet superficial question, and no one can answer me because it is loaded yet superficial.

And people here continue to see Trump through the safe distance of satire. That Dutch comic sketch that became popular abroad, “America First, the Netherlands Second,” is ubiquitous here for a whole week. (Part of the excitement comes from being noticed abroad for satirical cleverness rather than for Geert Wilders. Small countries have their own distinctive vanity.) The joke is that a Trump impersonator describes Dutch culture in a bid for Trump’s approval: “In December, we’ve got this scandalous tradition of Black Pete. It’s the most offensive, the most racist thing, you’ve ever seen. You’ll love it. It’s great.” The video’s concept is funny because it’s true: the Dutch government would want to be “second.” This is not a country with enormous international leverage, and it gravitates toward self-serving “neutrality.” Soon every other European country produces its version of the joke. It’s the Self-Deprecatory Spring.

There are new polls all the time, projections of subtle rises and falls. After Brexit and the American election, polls are harder to trust. But it looks like Wilders will lose some seats, or not gain too much, so there isn’t any panic in Amsterdam. And the reality of a parliamentary system allows you to be bored in advance: whatever the results, the election won’t really determine anything. The election deals the cards, and the poker game of coalition-forming comes after.

The weekend before the election brings a “game-changer”! (I hear people use the English term and I hate it.) On Saturday, March 11, the Turkish foreign minister is barred from flying into the Netherlands. The Turkish family minister drives in from Germany, but she’s turned back. There are clashes at the Dutch embassy in Istanbul and at the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. Erdogan calls the Dutch “fascists” and “Nazi remnants.” Rutte calls this “totaal bizar.” The Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam (Ahmed Aboutaleb of the PvdA—the first Muslim mayor of a large Dutch city) proudly reminds Erdogan that Rotterdam was leveled by the Nazis. The accusations of fascism call to mind World War II, but these are the sorts of diplomatic catastrophes that make an anxious historian read up on the beginning of World War I.

All this happens on the eve of a one-on-one debate between Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders—the first debate in which the reclusive Wilders is participating. Opportunism abounds. Rutte projects “leadership,” says that leadership is harder than tweeting from a couch, and Wilders takes the opportunity to say once again what he has been saying forever. Rutte has some good statesmanly lines at the ready; Wilders sarcastically praises him for these prepared lines. Whenever Rutte is talking, Wilders licks his lips with disgust and anticipation. I’m told this is one of his things. My sense is that they loathe each other, but perhaps they get along behind the scenes. Wilders was a member of the VVD before starting his own one-man party, and Wilders’s PVV was in Rutte’s first cabinet, from 2010 to 2012. Wilders’s departure brought about that cabinet’s dissolution and the last elections. Rutte can now claim that Wilders bailed in a time of national economic travail; he sounds like an American Democrat when he speaks of steering the nation through “the worst economic recession in a generation,” et cetera. Wilders complains that asylum-seekers get free healthcare while hardworking Dutch people have to pay a deductible.

Rutte has promised that he will not form a government with Wilders, so the moderator asks Rutte if he’d say that to Wilders’s face. Rutte says to Wilders’s face that he’ll never form a government with him—“niet, nooit, niet.” Not, never, not. Wilders replies that no one should believe Rutte because Rutte is part of the dishonest establishment. The logic is: People should vote for me (Wilders), because otherwise they end up with a liar like him (Rutte), who says he will never work with me, but that’s just one more of his lies!

When the results start coming in Wednesday evening, my first feeling is relief but not surprise. The second feeling, disappointment, arrives more gradually. Wilders’s PVV will have 20 seats, up from 15, but this is a smaller gain than anyone expected. Ten years ago they had more. The international commentariat is also relieved: maybe European populism will sink after all. Or maybe the Dutch election doesn’t illustrate anything, except that in a relatively prosperous northern European parliamentary democracy, the center-right can gain by being more polite in its xenophobia than the guy who compares the Koran to Mein Kampf. The defiant Wilders tweets, “Rutte is nog lang niet van mij af!!’’ (something like, “Rutte is not done with me yet, and won’t be for a long time!!”), like a villain in a Scooby-Doo episode about bureaucracy.

Watching election results here in some respects resembles doing so in the US. Numbers, “momentum,” nonsense. The TV cuts among party headquarters for jubilant, brightsiding, or forlorn speeches. But there’s such a variety of parties that it feels like a political Eurovision contest. The 50Plus leader does a silly lovable dance at having doubled from two seats to four. A friend visiting from abroad asks, “Is there a Dutch Nate Silver?” It seems like there’s a Dutch everything.

The center-right Christian Democratic Party is a big winner, up six seats to nineteen. They’ve pulled voters from Wilders by celebrating “Judeo-Christian” values. In a debate last week, the CDA’s toothily handsome leader, Sybrand van Haersma Buma (best name), said that the Netherlands’ faith in “joods-christelijke waarden” (Judeo-Christian values) like gender equality dates back “thousands” of years. Thousands! Gender equality is not an ancient Judeo-Christian value. But this is the CDA’s conservative version of tolerance-bandwagoning. This might be another transatlantic borrowing: the Dutch center-right invokes “Judeo-Christian values” vaguely, insipidly, like American politicians did during the Cold War. But when Steve Bannon speaks of the Judeo-Christian West, he has in mind an esoteric, apocalyptic theory of history brewed in 20th-century Europe. From Eisenhower to Buma. From Spengler to Bannon.

The left is divided, and its victories are inconsistent. GroenLinks has done well (from four seats to fourteen) but it hasn’t done, like, Jessianically well. The Animals have gone from two to five seats. The Socialists lost a seat but their leader is incongruously cheerful. (“He’s no Bernie,” my visiting friend says.) A lot of people have voted Helvetica: D66 gains seven seats to match the CDA’s nineteen.

The Labor Party endures the severest loss. Lodewijk Asscher, its leader, acknowledges that it is a “bitter evening.” He is gracious. I think of him as a noble man dealt a poor electoral hand. As part of the governing coalition, the PvdA conceded to technocratic market-driven reforms and bit the bullets of austerity. From what I can tell, there’s little crowing over their defeat. People didn’t vote for the PvdA, and they feel bad because they know that PvdA has taken the fall.

But Rutte wasn’t punished. The standoff with Turkey had a “premier effect,” analogous to seeming “presidential.” The VVD has lost eight seats, but still has thirty-three, so here we are. The TV cuts to Rutte coming down an escalator at the VVD headquarters, where “Uptown Funk” blares in the background. It’s overwhelmingly normaal.

International eyes will turn elsewhere and pay little attention to whatever coalition emerges months from now. A Dutch friend suggested to me that the international hubbub was akin to Holland travelogues from earlier centuries: leaps of the imagination that projected onto Holland utopian delights or dystopian nightmares. Some of the commentators are Gullivers who managed to escape this tiny country of milk-fed giants. I like this idea. But I’ve also envied these other writers’ clarity, because I have been lost in the weeds.

When Henry James passed through Holland in 1874, he saw it as paradigmatically bourgeois, and it is still paradigmatically bourgeois. “The virtues, when they are graceful (like cleanliness),” James observed, were “exaggerated to a vice.” The “sordid” virtues, “like the getting and keeping of money,” the Dutch “refined to a dignity.” He noticed “a rosy serving-maid” in Amsterdam, “squirting water from a queer little engine of polished copper over the majestic front of a genteel mansion whose complexion is not a visible shade less immaculate than her own.” She was cleaning a building that was already clean. “The performance suggests a dozen questions, and you can only answer them all with a laugh. What is she doing, and why is she doing it?”

I do not know what is going to happen. Maybe this election was a diversion, like cleaning an already clean building. The problem isn’t the dirt.

  1. I wish to thank Sander Pleij, Janne Heling, Artemy Kalinovsky and Ann Marie Wilson for their help in navigating Dutch politics and commentary. All errors of fact and argument are mine. 

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