buruma208_Patrick van KatwijkBSR AgencyGetty Images_wilders1 Patrick van KatwijkBSR AgencyGetty Images

The Rage of the Outsiders

The far-right populist Geert Wilders’ election victory in the Netherlands reflects the same sentiment that powered Brexit and Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016. But such outcomes could not happen without the cynicism displayed over the past few decades by traditional conservative parties.

AMSTERDAM – One of the biggest mistakes I ever made as a journalist was to underestimate Geert Wilders, now the leader (and only formal member) of the most popular political party in the Netherlands, and potentially the first far-right prime minister his country has ever known.

I interviewed Wilders in 2005 for my book, Murder in Amsterdam, about the assassination of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist. The Party for Freedom (PVV), founded by Wilders in 2006, did not exist yet. But I was interested in the views of an outspoken critic of Islam, and of immigrants with a Muslim background.

Frankly, I thought he was a bore, with no political future, and did not quote him in my book. Like most people, I was struck by his rather weird hairstyle. Why would a grown man and member of parliament wish to dye his fine head of dark hair platinum blond? In fact, he turned out to have been somewhat of a pioneer in this respect. The later successes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson demonstrated the importance of visual branding, of having a zany image boosted by the cultivation of odd hair. (Perhaps Hitler’s toothbrush moustache, or even Napoleon’s comb-over, was a harbinger.)