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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Media plays Kingmaker in the Netherlands

All eyes were on the Netherlands this past week, as the Dutch went to the polls to elect a new government.  Since Donald Trump shocked the political establishment in Europe as well as the United States by winning the 2016 Presidential Election, the Liberals and Progressives in countries from France to Austria have been petrified that a European version of Trump was waiting in the wings.  In January opinion polls in Holland had the Conservative, anti-immigration leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders, running even with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his ruling People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).  As sometimes happens in politics, an unexpected "event" occurred a week or so before the election.  The Netherlands is home to over three-hundred thousand Turkish-Dutch dual citizens, and it just so happens that the Turks are preparing for elections as well.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was determined to have certain ruling party government ministers campaign in the Netherlands, to round up votes for his Justice and Development Party (AKP).  From out of nowhere, Prime Minister Rutte decides to stand up to Erdogan and refuse entry to a Turkish politician who was traveling to Holland for the purpose of building political support for Erdogan's incumbent government. 

In a bizarre switching-of-hats, Rutte was able to look tough with regards to Turkish immigrants, just as the Dutch are heading to polls to elect a government.  In an even stranger flip-flop, the Dutch media, who had been painting Wilders as a neo-Nazi because of his opposition to the resettlement of refugees in the Netherlands, begin to praise Rutte for his uncompromising position regarding Turkish immigrants.  Why the about-face?  Because recent polls in the Netherlands had made it clear that the Dutch people were no longer supporting an extremely liberal policy with regards to refugees and immigrants.  Wilders has never wavered in his policies regarding the immigration issue, and in response, he has been vilified in the Dutch and European Press and accused of being both racist and out-of-touch with the mainstream of Dutch society.  Let me be clear- while I am able to use terms like "Nazi" as I write this blog post, that kind of language can get you into big trouble in Europe circa 2017.  No problem for the press; they just make use of more "polite" adjectives and phrases to paint Wilders as a bigot.  In the end, the EU political establishment was able to breath a sigh of relief.  Wilders and the PVV gained five seats in Parliament, and it appears that Rutte and the VVD will lose roughly eight seats.  But Rutte won the day, as he will be able to patch together a governing coalition and continue on Prime Minister.

Now that the Dutch have voted, all the attention turns to France.  This French presidential election is unlike any France has previously experienced, as the Socialist and Center-Right candidates seem to be finished even before the first round voting is complete.  Marine Le Pen, leader of the Far Right National Front (FN), is all but guaranteed to be in the second-round runoff, as she can confidently guarantee at least twenty-five percent support in the first round.   Unfortunately for Le Pen, it has proven exceedingly difficult for the FN to build on that percentage.  As for the other candidates, Francois Fillon of the Center Right Republicans, seemed to be the safe bet.  He had emerged from a bruising inter-party struggle with former President Nicolas Sarkozy and Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe with momentum and enthusiastic support, but a serious controversy derailed his candidacy early-on, and with outgoing President Hollande deeply unpopular, the Socialists are just about out of the race as well.  Who is left to run against Marine le Pen?  Emmanuel Macron, a middle-of-the-road politician who is the leader of a new, moderate political movement called "En Marche!", has moved into the catbird seat, and will probably be the next President of the French Republic.  As French politics go, Macron is middle-of-the-road, but in reality, he is left-of-center.  Most analysts give Le Pen no chance of winning, but recent polls have shown her staunch supporters have grown from the twenty-five percent figure to somewhere closer to thirty-five percent.  Once the second-round is set, the entire French political community will put aside its difference and support whoever runs against Marine Le Pen and the FN.  The French media, which has turned lampooning and insulting Le Pen into a daily exercise, will no doubt ratchet-up the accusations of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.  Outside of supporters of the FN, the press will be happy to lead the Crusade to send Le pen packing.  What is always so fascinating to observe is just how similar the media in Europe and the United States have become.

At one time, the press in western Europe prided itself on unbiased, non-political reporting.  The obsession with editorializing, at least as it is manifested in today's society, originated in the United States.  That's not to say that the British don't have a history of activist journalists; in fact, they've been an essential part of the British unwritten "checks-and-balances" tradition for centuries.  But on the continent, reporting, while at times quite sensational (Italy),  seemed to take very seriously its responsibility to present unbiased news.  The last two decades have ushered in quite a sea-change with regards to the media and press, particularly in France.  Analysts will argue that the European press has become more editorial-driven and political because of the rise in right-wing political parties.  Interestingly enough, the European political environment has seen an increase in far-left political activism as well, but don't expect to see the Green Party ever mentioned in the same breath as Marine Le Pen's FN.  As the new Left-oriented movement has been labeled "Progressive", the right-wing political groups have been called "Populist".  Analysts who believe that the Trump victory in 2016 will help conservatives and the Far Right don't really understand the current political environment in Europe.  Since mid-November 2016, after Donald Trump was declared the winner and it became obvious that recounts and other extreme efforts to rescue Hillary Clinton's candidacy were going to fail, the European media mobilized it resources to ensure that every media outlet and every newspaper stayed on message-that message being the deconstruction of Donald Trump as an honest, qualified, deserving President-Elect.  In December, Austrians elected Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen over the conservative Nicolas Hofer.  Poor Hofer never had a chance, not after the Austrian media continually compared his candidacy to Donald Trump.  The media in Sweden, Italy and France have fallen in line, as any Trump allegation that fins its way across the Atlantic automatically becomes fact.  Much of this development is driven by a media on both sides of the ocean who were blindly enamored with former President Barack Obama, and Trump.  The European people share their media's love affair with Obama, and Trump is perceived as the "anti-Obama".  Any candidate who truly wants to win, self-identified as populist or not, had better think long and hard before praising anything related to the new U.S. president.  Marine le Pen has been supportive of Trump since he won the Republican nomination, so she is obliged to ride this out.   She isn't too concerned, though, as she knows the media would be lined-up against her candidacy regardless of her opinion of Donald Trump.

The media in the United States has lost all pretense of "fair and balanced".  With the exception of Fox News, the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and the upstart Breitbart organization, the Left enjoys an intimidating dominance in mainstream news sources.  For years, the media's liberal bias was well-known, but never admitted, as some of the crusty old farts who ran these organizations demanded that at least the claim of unbiased reporting must be defended.  Most of the old-school geezers have been swept-aside, and the press in 2017 actually embraces its bias in favor of the Progressive Agenda.  The media is smarter than we are, which explains why so many Americans are still skeptical about Global Warming, and why others want to own their handguns for self-defense.  The media feels an all-encompassing obligation to support what is on our best interest, since, in from their perspective, many of us act contrary to what is best for our country and our planet.  This attitude is alive and well in Rome, Paris, Berlin, The Hague, Vienna and London. As our world gets smaller, the ties that connect the U.S. media to their peers on Europe grow stronger, therefore it should come as no surprise that every disproved, absurd, tired allegation made against candidate Trump somehow made its way into the European newspapers as well.  The pesky allegations made against Hillary Clinton were treated by the European Press as politically-driven exaggerations and lies.  Whether its in Brussels, Oslo, Dublin or Prague, conservative candidates in Europe have an uphill climb, and unfortunately, the press will make sure that Donald Trump is more of a hindrance than a help.  I was not surprised that Mark Rutte managed to stay Prime Minister in Holland, but I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were in his shoes.  Being one-half French, my heart always brings me back to this year's Presidential Election in France and its consequences.  Everything points to a victory for Emmanuel Macron and "En Marche!", but yet, Marine Le Pen represents so many things which are sacred to the French people.  She is the decided underdog, and she has never been afraid of sitting down and breaking bread with the underemployed and struggling poor white families of Marseille, Bordeaux, Paris, Calais and Brest.  She has finally broken with her father's legacy, as she is more likely to be criticized for advocating French departure from the EU than she is of being a bigot.  Marine Le Pen sings loudly and boldly about the French language, French history and French culture, and this appeal alone could push her over the fifty percent mark in the second round.  But like Trump last November, le Pen must battle not only a room full of political opponents, but an aggressive, entitled media as well.   

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