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Justin Fox

Some Political Systems Handle Populism Better Than Others

Like the Netherlands' Geert Wilders, Donald Trump is learning the limits of disruption.
Attention doesn't equal governing.

Attention doesn't equal governing.

Photographer: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

A few weeks after I arrived in the Netherlands as an exchange student in 1982, the Dutch held an election. I followed it as best I could, but I didn’t speak the language yet. One night, during the television time allotted to political parties, I watched the amusingly low-rent presentation of the Centrumpartij (Center Party). As I remember, it was just a dorky-looking dude sitting at a desk and speaking into the camera, flanked by the Center Party logo of a traffic sign proscribing turns in either direction and the slogan “niet rechts, niet links” (not right, not left).

The next day, in gym class, somebody asked me which party I would support if I could vote. “Centrumpartij,” I said, laughing. “Niet rechts, niet links.” An older student pulled me aside. “You probably shouldn’t say that,” he told me in English. “Those guys are fascists.”  With that, I stopped telling people I liked the Center Party.