Hear, listen, understand and respond

I said, just minutes ago, in speaking about an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail by Michael Valpy, that we, moderate Conservatives, must hear, must actually listen to and must understand the voices out there that are raised to express their, often inchoate, fear and anger.

In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente, a pretty conservative columnist, has taken a look at what is happening is in the Netherlands, normally a bastion of liberalism, and suggests that “The Netherlands is the very model of a modern European country – prosperous, peaceable and orderly. The Dutch pride themselves for their tolerant outlook and progressive values. Except for their wooden shoes and funny doors, they’re a lot like Canadians. So why,”  she asks herself, “has a crazy populist seized centre stage in Wednesday’s election?

That election is today, 15 March, and hence this posting.

Freedom Party Leader Geert Wilders Interview

The “crazy populist” is, of course, “The peroxide-headed Geert Wilders [who, Margaret Wente says] makes Kellie Leitch look like Shirley Temple. Never mind a values test. He wants to ban the Koran, shut down mosques, bar asylum-seekers, and have “no immigrants any more from Islamic countries.”” As Ms Wente says, almost every other political leader has already said that even if Mr Wilders wins they most votes they will refuse to work in a coalition with him, so he is highly unlikely to ever for a government, but, she says “a victory in the popular vote would be a huge boost for the likes of Marine Le Pen in France.

Why is this happening?

In the United States and most of Europe,” Margaret Wente says, “anti-immigrant sentiment is combined with a host of other grievances. This is not so true in the Netherlands. The economy is strong. People are not that fussed about the European Union. Inequality is not an issue (after all, the Netherlands is about the most equal place on Earth). The big issue in this election 4482588347_f5a6c13259_zis national identity – that elusive thing known as Dutchness. Dutchness is about the way people are expected to behave. It embraces anything from respecting women to not spitting on the street. And people fear they are losing it.

The Dutch,” Ms Wente says, “have a long history of welcoming newcomers. Immigrants from many places, including Indonesia, have integrated well. When asked what traits immigrants should possess, the Dutch rank skin colour and Christianity at the very bottom of the list. They don’t even care much about education or work skills.

Ms Went goes on to say that “Populists like Mr. Wilders are doing well for the same reason Donald Trump did well – they’ve tapped into legitimate grievances that the Mark_Rutte-6governing elites didn’t understand or have failed to address. The only way to save their skin is to persuade the voters that they get it … [and] … Mark Rutte, the current Dutch Prime Minister, is attempting to do exactly that. In a full-page letter published in late January, he declared that the Dutch are “increasingly uncomfortable” with immigrants who “harass gays, or whistle at women in short skirts, or brand ordinary Dutch people racists.” Immigrants who “refuse to adapt” should “behave normally, or go away.”

Let’s hope Mr. Rutte wins this one,” the rather conservative Ms Wente concludes, because “As he warned on Monday, “the wrong kind of populism” is threatening the European order. And he’s right. If the moderates can’t persuade the voters they can address their legitimate concerns – as the Democrats so miserably failed to do in the United States – the future will be a lot more dangerous, both for them and for the rest of us.

Prime Minister Rutte has clearly heard, listened to, and understood at least part of the fear and anger that is driving so many Dutch voters into Mr Wilders’ arms. So, I think (hope) have some Conservative leadership contenders heard and grasped what is driving many Conservative Party members towards our various versions of Donald Trump … he heard, he hqdefaultlistened, he understood and he promised to do something. It is not clear to me that Donald Trump knows how to, can, will or even wants to keep his promises, and that could produce another, nastier backlash of its own, but, right now, people are giving him the benefit of the doubt because the things that they fear and things that make then angry have been festering for a long time and most Americans don’t expect President Trump to do everything all at once … but he made some pretty specific promises and Americans, and many Dutch people and some in France and Canada, too, want him, and others, to follow through and actually deport people … not just Latin Americans, either.

We, Canadians, should have a ‘colour blind’ immigration system; if there is one thing I have learned in ¾ of a century of life, working and living in several countries on four or five continents, it is that most people are pretty much alike: equally smart and stupid, honest and venal, brave a craven without regard to race or creed … but I also learned that some cultures are more flexible than others but even the most flexible (liberal) ones have firelimits. The limits of America, Dutch and French cultures have been and are being tested now. While I want, and I suggest we need, a ‘colour blind’ immigration policy it should be one that is evidence based and we should be able and willing to regulate the flow so that we get the immigrants that we want … people who want to share and live our values … and can exclude those from countries and regions with a history of failure to adapt.

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