A business-like White House and John Kelly

In light of maintaining the US government’s international position and the need for a strong foreign policy, John Kelly will bring a welcome change to the White House.

From the campaign trail on, Trump has been pointing to the success of his business as physical examples of his leadership talents. It seemed only logical he would take his experience as a businessman into the White House, his experience in corporate America, however, seems quite the double-edged sword.

For one, running a business is – although it may seem so at first sight – not a one-man job, it requires advisory from both the private- and public sector, furthermore, no business thrives without the necessary channels of communication, the well-being of its employees and satisfaction of its customers. It is for these reasons that Republicans have enjoyed the thought of an executive run by a CEO-like figure on many occasions; Reagan, for example, established a commission that looked to the private sector for ideas with regard to efficiency and removal of the necessary evils that accompany federal bureaucracy. Fellow Republican George W. Bush promised to run government based on a ‘market-based’ approach. Both these examples fit snugly in the Republican mantra of small government.

On the other hand, however, businesses – in their essence – exist for the sole purpose of making money and distributing that money to its respective employees and shareholders. In the private world, customer satisfaction is merely a necessity in the process of making money, not a goal. Furthermore, corporate America prefers short-term dividends over long-term investment, which results in limited innovation. Although previous attempts to modernize parts of government by peering over the shoulders of the chief executive officer have sometimes lent themselves well to efficiency in the oval, a business-esque government falls flat on its face by the above arguments. By definition, this philosophy does not result in a government ‘for the people’, nor does it secure the ‘blessings of Liberty and Posterity’ of its citizens.

Despite obvious faults and fallacies, it seems that the idea of a business-esque government is one of the current administration’s most consistent. Ramifications include an executive that is geared towards short-term wins, an executive that seems to take no interest in its example-setting role and a President that makes his decisions unexpectedly and abruptly, many based on the opinion of the last person or adviser he spoke to, none seem to involve the careful deliberation and thought that government so requires. Trump’s personality traits further add to the administration’s inability to function, for the sake of avoiding reiterations, it is sufficient to note that Trump’s satisfaction at reading his name in one of Magie Haberman’s headlines trumps his will to serve the country as promised.

The gatekeeper

Thermodynamic’s second law – namely that entropy, a quantitative measure of disarray, will always increase – still holds as the White House engages in an outlandish display of chaos; Scaramucci in, Spicer out, Priebus out, Bannon insulted, and, in a bizarre twist of events, Scaramucci out as a result of Kelly in.

Judging from media reports over, Reince Priebus has been a weak chief of staff. His nomination already seemed mostly the result of Trump realizing that ‘draining the swamp’ is more easily said than done, Priebus appeared merely a kind gesture towards the more ‘swampy’ Washington-folk. The previous chief of staff therefore never quite enjoyed the same friendliness with Trump as some of the more ominous, cartoonish figures in his administration, nor were he ever distinctly part of one of the White House factions.

Trump’s – and therefore Priebus’ – oval office has been described as a ‘Grand Central Station’, contrary to the ‘therapist’s couch’. Priebus has left the traditional gatekeeper role of which Chris Whipple speaks in his new book (The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency) at the door and seemingly tried to put Trump in the more accustomed environment of his Trump Tower office. As is plain from the above, the strategy has not worked: no campaign promises have been materialized nor has the swamp been drained, all the while Obama’s legacy still stands, international conflicts ask for dire attention and all that has manifested is either half-baked or hastily established via executive order.

This, then, is Kelly’s task: to promote thought and argument, demote sloppy advisory and first and foremost keep the gate. Whether supportive of Trump or not, whether supportive of his policies and ideology or not; the US government needs to be run and in the light of maintaining its international position, the general will most certainly bring a welcome change to the White House.

Short addendum; journalists have noted that the door to the oval office was often closed for the past few days, seeing patterns within this short while might be a tad optimistic but it seems that Kelly aims to take on the role of keeping the gate.

@ Eat Pray Vote!

NBC could have considered a different format on Alex Jones

Megyn Kelly’s one-on-one prime-time interview with Alex Jones appears flawed from the beginning. Which is to say that NBC’s goal is noble, its execution is badly thought out at best.

Since the beginning of the Internet and eventually mass-adaption of this new technology, every info needs a ‘-tainment’, causing shiny capitalized headlines to leave objectivity and truth in the dust. Reporters have to be opinionated and their role as an interviewer has adapted into a new role as debater, rebutting arguments for the pleasure of the viewer. Polarization of the media landscape is frankly inevitable as outlets can only entertain when taking a firm stance and causing controversy. In this Fox News vs. MSNBC feud, one reporter, having stood on both sides of the aisle, hopes to transcends such standards.

Megyn Kelly has been teasing her controversial interview with Alex Jones, which airs upcoming Sunday, for two days now. The interview seems flawed from the beginning, judging from Kelly’s less than impressive track-record as a sloppy interviewer displaying little force when it comes down to complex problems – and, I may be mistaken, but her most recent teaser appears to confirm my suspicions.

Alex Jones, hard-right conspiracy theorist and Trump-lover, best known for dismissing the Sandy Hook shooting as a hoax (although he later nuanced his statements) and recently for receiving temporary press access to the White House, has been rightfully criticized and dismissed by people on both sides of the aisle. His follower base has however been steadfastly growing, further upping his website to the mainstream.

It seems only logical that many have taken to social media to decry Jones’ appearance on NBC as free prime-time coverage, himself being a true craftsman of verbal twisting and tuning, dodging questions and plain lying. Kelly and NBC have tirelessly rebutted these comments noting that it is her job as an objective journalist to cover a person to whom the President promised not to “disappoint”.

Jones’ prominence in the political landscape is not be misunderstood. On the other hands, this interview sends the message that theorists and haters such as Jones are worthy of receiving prime time television in the confusing 2017 of alternative facts.

All in all, NBC should now air the interview. Not doing so would result in immediate backlash from Alex Jones and his base. However, I would have advised against the format beforehand. Instead of a one-on-one, one-hour interview, in which a man as disconnected from reality as Alex Jones can’t possibly be persuaded to engage in a rational dialogue, NBC may opt for a profile of Alex Jones, rebutting what is false and explaining his increasing popularity among so many and their most important representative, the President.

NOTE: Been having a very interesting discussion on Reddit here!

Left, right and Macron

Macron, as many other centrists, has campaigned on the promise of being neither left nor right, hoping to resemble unification as well as distancing himself from the diluted left, right playing field. However, now that he is the president, Macron will have to wage a different battle to make sure that populists won’t hit back twice as hard.

Economic growth is pushing through, unemployment rates are back at their pre-crisis levels and democrats are gaining momentum against their incumbent right-wing opponents. People have grown tired of Manichean politics, the politics of leaving the EU versus further cooperation with the EU, of close borders versus open borders, these choices often portrayed as a choice between intellectual progressive leftism versus bigoted right-wing extremism. Rita Verdonk, a Dutch politician, once campaigned on the motto that she was ‘Neither left nor right but straightforward’, her message was unmistakably right-wing, but her slogan does catch the wrongs of the terminology, people are done with these ever-changing, over-simplifying terms. Centrist parties, much like Macron and his movement campaign on being neither left nor right as well, and win. Do left and right still mean something?

The T-junction

The left and right terminology finds its origin in, ironically, the French National Assembly in 1789. Those opposed to the revolution, evidently proponents of the old monarchy, sat on the right in the recently found parlement they so loathed, proponents of the revolution sat on the left. The divisions continued and later on, in a time where there were still no parties in the French political landscape, leftists came to be regarded as innovators, rightists often as defenders of the constitution. Only in the beginning of the nineteenth century did the terms gain popularity as they began to be used informally to describe one’s political ideology. One can conclude that in these times, right-wing parties protected the interests of the upper-classes, leftists tailored to the people of lower social-economic class. It is at this time, the time of industrialization and worker suppression, that the left adopted the role of protecting workers from the aristocratic upper-class, a feat of democracy if you will.

The left, in the late nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century associated with Marxism and later on social democracy, gained popularity quickly. However, income differences and worker suppression became less of an issue as left-wingers began to lose their prevalence in Europe. Optimism quickly transcended pessimism in the time after the Great Wars, it was a time of secularization and the civil rights movement. Leftists swiftly abandoned their traditional working-class voter base, rather representing intellectual, minority voters. Quickly, right-wingers managed to pick up this left-behind group and sound the voice of these socially conservative voters.

Skip ahead three decades and one finds itself in the time of pro-business conservatives such as Reagan and Thatcher, who made the best of the economic prosperity of their years. Social democrats, who embraced multiculturalism, often formed coalitions with such mildly conservative, pro-business parties, forming the basis for Tony Blair and Wim Kok in building their ‘purple’, third way cabinets. Fueled by the fall of the Soviet empire, their centrist, neo-liberal ideology caught on.

One can see that the definitions of left and right have long correlated and moved, the political spectrum is not what it used to be. The fact that the definitions of these terms are as ever-changing as political ideologies themselves is two-fisted. However, as with anything, people tend to cling to such terms, bringing themselves to the almost binary choice as described in the first paragraph, an even worse trait of these one-sided designations.

Left and right and the french elections

Besides these obvious shortcomings, globalization has rendered parties on the left and the right useless. Social democracy, which is losing its influence swiftly, was – and still is – the foundation of European politics. No longer is it possible to impose radical protectionism or drastically change foreign policy. Countries will be rapped over the knuckles by the European Union, Wall Street or any other influential institution. Ideology is compromised to the furthest extent. Macron, as well as other moderates, seems to have gained immensely from campaigning on a message that is independent of political direction. He understood that people grew tired of this diluted playing field. He also understood that, as a result, many Europeans tended to more extreme parties to break the politics of this loving consensus.

His recently established cabinet of ‘left and right’ is an excellent first step towards a new type of government that does not comply with terminology but tailors to the ballots the French have cast. Le Pen’s talking points will remain talking points. Macron and his cabinet should seek to acknowledge those and offer viable solutions, contrary to bleak rhetoric, and renew the sense of democracy that once originated in that same France. If his administration won’t, right-wing populist will be back, and win.

The fate of the Union and the safe center

The French election seems torn – almost binary – between progress and backwardness. Le Pen or Mélenchon would both mean a severe and possibly catastrophic blow to the European Union as well as a conflict-ridden French government. Voters, disregarding populism from both flanks of the political spectrum, search for the middle ground; En Marche!

If one were to use sporting terms, 2016/2017 has been an immensely worrying – albeit interesting – season of politics. All suggested that it would be the season of the ‘people’, of the left-behind working man, that at its center would be the battle between the forgotten and the global elite. The next domino stone of this nationalist insurgent seemed destined to fall as Donald Trump climbed the stairs of the White House and the United Kingdom took a header down the steps of the European Parliament. However, as the Netherlands has acted a little more ‘normal’ and rejected the ‘wrong kind of populism’, in the words of Prime-Minister Rutte, Western political development saw a rejection of the nationalist incumbents and with that a safe escape to more centrist and conventional parties. Now, as France’s election is coming up with two anti-EU and market-skeptical candidates – Jean Luc Mélenchon is downright anti-market – are estimated to lose, as well as a general election in the United Kingdom, many hope that this trend can continue and Western democracies can once again rely on moderates to run the country.

Today (April 23), three days after another IS-claimed terrorist attack, is the day that the French will take to the polls. Under a loud a voté, as is tradition under de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic, their vote will be cast and their most important civic duty satisfied. Contrary to convention in the Fifth Republic, however, an independent candidate is leading the polls, with the runner-up and the number three being independents as well. As already stated in the previous paragraph, the election seems torn between populists and more conventional candidates. Torn – almost binary – between progress and backwardness. France, as one of the three main founding countries of the European Union, still is one of the driving forces behind the Union. Now, with Brexit, Trump, Erdogan and Putin already threatening the connecting element of the continent, the people of France have the power to bring the final catastrophic blow to the project. One that was created not only to further trade and commerce, but to work together on projects that take decades to accomplish, to fight climate change as well as create a powerful bond to protect its people from a repeat of the great wars at the beginning of the Twentieth century. 

Bluntly, a victory by either Le Pen or Jean-Luc Mélenchon – both independents – would be an outright disaster. Both take anti-EU and anti-immigration stands and as such pose immediate threats to the European Union as well as create nothing but conflict within the French government itself. Mélenchon, who is a traditional Trotskyist, does add some of his own hard-left ingredients, 100 billion in social spending in an already in-debt country for example, all in all, however, their would-be presidency reflects rather the same type of EU-loathing and anti-elite sentiment. That leaves two candidates who have an actual chance of winning the election: Macron, the Socialist economy minister turned liberal internationalist and the scandal-scarred Thatcherite conservative Fillon.

Mr Fillon, the Republican candidate, is a well-known figure in the French establishment – a true ‘swamp habitant’ if you will. In a country that has long been a staple of big government and strong, charismatic presidents, the hard-right Fillon dares to campaign with pro-market ideas that include deregulation, a higher pensioning age and drastic cuts in social spending. However, as he has taken 900.000 euros of state money to pay family members for ‘work’ – doing nothing – he turns his powerful claims of change in mere hypocrisy. We then find Macron, the political newcomer.  He started his movement En Marche! only yesteryear. As of yet, his only government experience is as economy minister under François Hollande, whom he frequently opposed with more liberal-oriented views. His plans include drastic cuts in social spending, progressive social policy and more collaboration with the European Union. The social-liberal candidate rejects the traditionalist views of his Republican opponent and does not care for deep relationships with Russia.

Many disregard him for his centrist views with Le Pen noting that he ‘can’t decide’. Those who support the idea that one has to hold a dogmatic position that can be easily categorized and sorted on the political spectrum frankly does not understand democracy. As with any democracy, what matters is the will of the people, whether that’s a little leftist in terms of social ideas and a little right-wing in terms of economy does not matter the slightest bit. After all, we can conclude that the French elections show, as with the Dutch elections – note this article – an escape to a safe center. Disregarding the hard-right under Le pen, the hard-left under Mélenchon and the Catholic conservative Fillon leaves a void for just one pro-EU, pro-market, Russian-skeptic, non-stealing, social-liberal candidate: Emmanuel Macron. En Marche!

Just new packaging?

As noted in a previous article, the elections in the Netherlands mean more than the continuation of right-wing populism. Conventional parties, as well as newcomers, have prevailed as right-wing populism is destined to the opposition, however, coming in second is not the same as losing.

“I hope that tomorrow, those non-Dutch journalists that came here to say how crazy we’ve become, have to tell their editors: ‘We’ve booked some expensive hotels, but the Netherlands stayed healthy, there were a few other interesting developments though.'”

These were Alexander Pechtold, first on the list of the progressive Democrats (D66), his words. Yesterday I posted a piece here concerning the bifurcated view that many non-Dutch journalists seem to have, paying attention to the ‘Will the Netherlands be the next domino of populism’ sentiment, seemingly forgetting that, as Pechtold noted, there is more happening; we see a Bernie-esque movement gaining traction fast, we see a right that promises to be ‘truly’ classically liberal and we see a hunkering for stability as the centrist parties gain popularity. As of the 16th of March, headlines are reading ‘Populists appear to fall short […]’ and ‘Rutte beats anti-islam leader Wilders‘, Rutte has won the elections, Wilders didn’t. But has right-wing populism really failed? 

Finishing as the clear winner in terms of the amount of seats is Mark Rutte’s liberal party, carrying 33 seats. Wilders’ freedom party carries 20 after which we find Pechtold’s pro-Europe Democrats and Buma’s conservative Cristian Democrats, both at 19 seats. Trailing are the progressive Green Left and the more traditional and euroskeptic Socialist party, each winning 14 seats. The Labor party wound up with a record low 9 seats.

The established parties will be joined by two newcomers; DENK (“think”), who won three seats and have taken an anti-Wilders, populist, media-bashing approach. Safe to say, they embody everything that is wrong with Wilders’ freedom party, the difference being that their political views are perpendicular to the PVV>

Forum for Democracy (FvD), the anti-EU, right-wing ‘intellectual’ party, promising to bare the ‘system’ from the inside has also won two seats in parliament.

The gist

The true winner, however, is the progressive Green Left under Jesse Klaver; quadrupling its number of seats and now a force to be reckoned with. Seats for the anti-elitist, anti-EU Forum for Democracy are remarkable as well. I consider these developments the result of a healthy democracy – ironic, since Forum for Democracy claims it’s unhealthy.

After all, one can argue – as I am – that Wilders lost, since he didn’t win enough seats to have any authority in upcoming negotiations, and Rutte won, looking forward to a third term as prime-minister. Compared to the projected polls on Wednesday 15, the results were a little off. Rutte’s last-minute jump can be explained by Wilders’ absence in those crucial last weeks and possibly the still prevalent ‘taboo’ of voting for Wilders, but he has mostly Erdogan to thank. His formal and professional handling of such a diplomatic incident has improved his reputation considerably. Rutte then sidelined Wilders spectacularly by noting that governing is not ‘tweeting on the couch’.

One easily forgets that all these developments were due to Wilders’ Freedom party – also a result of a healthy democracy. The ‘new right’ aims to fill the gap on the right between Wilders and Rutte, now that the liberal party has shifted to the left. Jesse Klaver’s progressive left fights back against Wilders’ anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric, by promoting diversity and solidarity, in the process persuading many youngsters to vote.

Besides all these new ideologies and the fact that more people than ever before are interested in politics, many established parties actually partly adopted Wilders’ far-right views on immigration and the Islam. Especially Sybrand Buma from the centrist Christian Democrats has tried to voice a more sensible conservative sound. Rutte, notably, posted an open letter stating that all ‘who do not take note of our values should act normal or leave’. 

One can thus argue that although Wilders will most certainly not govern, his populist rhetoric has sparked the creation of new parties and ideology’s and made subject of such things as immigration and the ‘Islamization of the Netherlands’. The first being the healthy development of an open democracy. The second a disproportionately featured subject that – as I see it – takes away from more important topics such as climate change and the economy. Wilders can thus keep on tweeting from his couch and Rutte can be prime-minister again. Take note, however, that coming in second in a playing field that comprises of more than twenty parties, is not the same as losing.

Equally worrying

An overview of Trump’s address to congress. Liberals may be laughing to early.

Trump to congres

So, the reviews for Trump’s address to congress are in, ‘hopeful’ seems to be the general consensus. The Times, the British one, headlined ‘Trump struck an upbeat tone’. Positive I guess, The Daily Telegraph said that Donald Trump ‘finds his presidential voice’. NRC, my preferred Dutch daily, noted that Trump ‘moderated his tone, but not his message’, The Netherlands’ most prominent correspondent in the U.S said it was both ‘moderated and optimistic’. Even The Washington Post has gone as far as saying the address was ‘optimistic’.

From these headlines one might think that Trump has finally taken a more presidential stand, the glass may be half full again. As I had not yet seen the address myself, I committed myself to not forming any opinion yet, however, one can’t help but go in with a little hope.

So, I’m back and I’ve now seen it and let me say, the address was not the U-turn I hoped it would be, not even a kink in the road, and, to stretch the traffic analogy even further, I don’t think he even crossed lanes. I just noticed another fun analogy in past week’s Banyan column in the Economist. Banyan describes Duterte’s attitude to America not as a pivot but as a pirouette. Without diving into the scope of that article; Trump’s address may be nothing more than a pirouette, not the pivot many acclaim it to be. Still, it seems a little abundant to give Mr. Trump anything other than some style points.

Positive at first, then America first

Hinting at his low approval ratings, it seems natural Trump wanted to change his tune to better fit the formality of such an occasion. The address to congress has, after all, always been a presidential and formal affair. His message was brought ‘deeply from his heart’ and was one of ‘unity and strength’, signalling a ‘new chapter of American greatness’. After noting that his presidency was called upon by a ‘chorus that finally became an earthquake’, he switched to his harsh America First agenda, albeit using different words. Of course, in his speech on ‘unity and strength’, he mentioned only those who ‘came in unity’ to vote for Trump, forgetting the majority of, somehow, non-united voters that did not cast their vote in favor of Trump. 

Although he did not mention such things as an ‘American carnage’, the U.S was once again portrayed as a country that is ridden by foreign criminals and terrorists. The U.S is seemingly riddled with foreigners hoping to blow it up as he calls for an America that is not ‘a sanctuary for extremists’. In this rhetoric, Trump forgot about the recent advice by his national security adviser, who contemplated that he should refrain from using the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’. Something that I should note as truly positive – especially as a European – is Trump’s renewed commitment to NATO, which he had called ‘obsolete’ on previous occasions.

As the tirade went on, Trump pledged for the rest of his America First program; immigration, infrastructure, workers, tax cuts etc… However, once again stating all these things is a little superfluous and does not do justice to the nature of this article. What should be noted, however, is the absence of certain things. Some good, some bad. It was refreshing to not see him divulge in hopeless media bashing or the praising of his electoral college victory. However, the absence of such topics as the environment, budget deficits and Russia is alarming.

‘Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.’ For many, the moment that stood out was Trump’s tribute to William Ryan Owens, a former Navy Seal who died in a raid in Yemen. ‘He died as he lived, a warrior and a hero’ Trump noted, making for an emotional ending to his speech. However, and I hate to kill the mood, Trump did not mention that Ryan’s parents, who were present, did not accept an invitation to speak with Mr. Trump as they deemed the raid unnecessary. Liberals, evidently, called this tribute a distraction to make sure the press wouldn’t ask too sharp questions.

So, in conclusion

This was, without a doubt, Trump’s most presidential speech. Charlie Mahteslan noted;  ‘If that wasn’t Donald Trump, and we weren’t waiting for something wild to happen, that would have been a very standard, boring speech.’ Which is partly true, he did not diverge from the script as it was brought on the teleprompter and he restrained from any attacks on the press or the judiciary. Points for rhetoric are in check.

All in all, Trump knows he represents a large share of the middle class and Trump knows that the Republicans need those voters to pass their proposals. As long as Trump doesn’t do anything too out of the ordinary, Republicans will stand up and applaud. And as long as Trump promotes his America First agenda, Democrats won’t.

Can I vote?

On the proposal of a voting entrance exam and to what extent it respects the values of our democracy.

As polls show that the anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiment that inflames democracies also prevails in the Netherlands, young-, as well as highly-educated people feel that it is caused not only by a growing sense of discontent but also by negligence and frank stupidity. In their believe that many people can be persuaded to vote for someone other than Geert Wilders by paying more attention to the news and the party programs, some propose an entrance exam for anyone wanting to cast their vote coming March. To which extent does this idea of an epistocracy respect the values of our democracy?

This idea has been brought up several times before, in 2002 for example, when Gerard Marlet, economist and historian, claimed that ‘the success of Pim Fortuyn proves the failing of a democracy that has gone too far’. Now that Geert Wilders’ freedom party is promoting the same anti-islamic and anti-EU rhetoric as other Western populists, the proposal of such a system is more prominent than ever. The idea seems to be especially popular among young people. According to I&O Research, 42% of all young people believe that an entrance exam is a good idea. American philosopher Jason Brennan argues in his book ‘Against democracy’ that ‘the results are not good enough’ and proposes a system in which only the ‘well-informed’ are allowed to vote. A book by David van Reybrouck*, that goes by the same title, proposes an overhaul of democracy that aims to involve citizens more in politics by means of drawing lots. 

Safe to say, all seems to hint at a growing distrust in our democracy. Young people as well as highly educated people may want to believe in democracy, they fear it is threatened by the growing number of mis-informed, detached and disinterested people. To substantiate their proposed entrance exam they draw parallels with the process of getting your driving license: the roads are freely accessible, just make sure you know the rules. Of course neglecting the definition of traffic: the movement of people by vehicle, which, due to the possibility of death, is heavily regulated. Democracy, on the other hand, is defined as a state of society in which equal citizens elect a representative body. Whoever brings up such a suggestion shows only a grotesque misunderstanding of democracy; an entrance exam is merely reminiscent of the nineteenth century when only the powerful and the affluent were allowed to vote.

Nevertheless – with a healthy dose of skepticism, I should note – I decided to take the exemplary exam. This exam was posted in Vrij Nederland, it consists of thirty multiple-choice questions that aim to test my knowledge of the Dutch political system, 27 out of thirty have to be answered correctly to pass the test. Let me note beforehand: I failed, as well as my well-informed, politically active parents and four out of five members in my university debating group. The exam started of with some relatively simple questions concerning the fundamentals of our constitutional monarchy: the role of the king and the number of seats in the senate, etc. Then came the harder questions; the number of Muslims in the Netherlands, in what year Croatia joined the EU, what parties are in the EU congress, who was the founding father of the EU. In the end, I managed to answer 26 questions correctly

Besides these two obvious failings, – namely that the proposed exam is both anti-democratic as well as too hard – rebuttals add up. For example, as a consequence of higher educated people giving the notion that their view is the correct and preferred view makes voters feel left out. The arrogance with which many discard their views as nonsense has been a crucial factor in driving them away from more conventional parties already. The entrance exam allows a heavily skewed electorate to vote on behalf everyone. Isn’t the most crucial and beautiful part of democracy the fact that a poor mother supporting a family, as well as a businessman or a professor can cast their votes? Does it really matter whether I know that there are 150 seats in the upper house, Robert Schuman was one of the founding fathers of the EU and the fact that Croatia joined the EU in 2013? Of course not, if I would find myself most attracted to a liberal ideology, I’d vote for the liberals, if I find that I can best benefit from the plans of the socialist party, I’d vote for them. 

Now, I am not neglecting the fact that lower-educated people seem to vote more heavily for populist parties and are generally less interested in politics. I try to withhold myself from generalization, but these statements are proven time and time again. These people tend to be suspect to the skewed rhetoric of populist and charismatic demagogues and regarding this as true. Often party programs and political news go unread, resulting in people voting for empty exclamations, contrary to rational argument, even voting for a party that does not serve them best. As an example, the party program of the PVV, Geert Wilders’ freedom party, only counts one A-4 size paper. This program contains statements such as ‘All mosques and Islamic schools closed and a ban on the Koran.’. Of course ignoring that four constitutional rights have to be abolished, as well as destructive consequences for the economy.

To conclude, no, an entrance exam is most certainly not a great idea. It is anti-democratic and challenges the values that the Netherlands, as well as every Western democracy, respects. The disinterest as well as the distrust in politics is, however, a problem, pushing voters to right-wing populist parties that may not serve them best. In the Netherlands, lowly-educated people tend to mostly ignore society and politics. I would propose to educate more and better on the central values of our democracy, allowing people to reasonably debate and make up their mind. By giving people confidence in voters, you’ll give them confidence in our democracy. 

* David van Reybrouck is a Belgian writer, philosopher and historian. I would certainly advice you to read his book ‘Against Democracy’, it proposes a very interesting view on the state of our democracy. Although I disagree with him on certain aspects, his book is certainly thought provoking.