The widely held consensus on the importance of regaining trust in government should not result in an attempt to change citizens' perceptions rather than introspection and change within the government itself. Only special attention to a transparent government can improve the relationship with the citizens.
Recent affairs and crises have exposed the government's lack of transparency about its actions and decisions. This lack of openness is at odds with the promises of parties such as VVD and D66, which emphasise transparency and reliability in their election programmes. In reality, the government makes big mistakes and tries to cover them up or not actively remember them, leading to a loss of trust and a democratic imbalance.
A thorough evaluation of the corona policy, in contrast to the expected regaining of citizens' trust, will justify the need for more distrust of the government. This distrust is desirable. It is an essential part of a healthy democracy, in which the government must be critically monitored and controlled. It is precisely a lack of distrust that has contributed to government missteps, with the media playing an important role in maintaining this lack of critical attitude.
Reforms within the government and the media are necessary to create a healthier balance of power and more transparency. A true democracy depends on a critical, vigilant and, above all, informed citizenry.
Political parties, the ombudsman, NPO, national newspapers: everyone agrees on one subject and that is... No, not "social security" but: "regaining trust in the government". This indicates that the priority is to change the attitude of citizens. The actions of the government are mainly instrumental in bringing about that change.
That is not a confidence-inspiring approach. You would expect introspection: what did we do wrong, how can we structurally correct it? How can we guarantee transparency and thus show that we are becoming a little more reliable again because we are making adjustments thanks to criticism from outside?
For the media, this is not necessary. They consider systemic criticism to be 'far-right' and 'anti-democratic'. They support the incumbent parties and they prefer to keep the troublemakers at bay. According to them, the problem is on the side of the disobedient citizen who refuses to trust the government.
Say what you do
"I say what I think and do what I say," said Pim Fortuijn. We have now arrived at a government that does not say what it does, which is a few steps further. If you ask what they did and why, they remain silent, even though that is the only thing that matters: transparency. If you know what happened and why, you can judge whether they said what they thought and did what they said. Even Woo requests are ignored or sabotaged.
Do cabinet trendsetters VVD and D66 say what they do?
VVD writes in its election program: "The government must be subservient, reliable and transparent. The House of Representatives must be able to carry out its supervisory task properly and focus on controlling the government." It's literally there. There has to be so much. If you weigh this statement against the behaviour of the Rutte cabinet, you can only conclude that message and reality are far apart in the VVD. The VVD is clearly not acting on its word. Where is the reliability factor?
From the party program of D'66: "If people are not protected from arbitrariness and abuse of power, the rule of law fails [...] The basics must be in order: good service, transparent accountability and understandable communication." How does good service reconcile with draconian policy, how transparent is the insistence on policy processes with underlying data and models, and do they perhaps mean by understandable communication that it must be clear that someone's position is at risk if they think they know something better (or even: really know much better) than government officials? Does the establishment of behind-the-scenes censorship on social media and job insecurity in the face of criticism perhaps fall under 'understandable communication'? There, too, no trace of introspection. They do write that they learn from the childcare benefits scandal, but the past period has shown that nothing has been learned from the childcare benefits scandal. All important corona cards are still kept close to their chests, despite FOIA requests.
In other words, the government is making big mistakes, covering them up, thereby forfeiting trust and then believes that the perception of the public needs to be adjusted. The regency disdain splashes off: if we play the masses, it will be all right again. They count on their most important pillars: Volkskrant, NRC, Op1.
Anyone who trusts a government that behaves in this way is not a democrat. A democratic government exists by the grace of opposing forces. That whole dynamic has been sidelined. We have repeatedly seen how cabinet members turned away when the opposition was given the floor – and how the Speaker of the House of Representatives allowed that to happen. A power-hungry majority kept everything in check with a mutual hand-wringing of principles.
Maybe they all want to, but they simply can't withstand the forces of power.
The Fourth Wave plays controlled opposition
Trouw published a sympathetic opinion piece by Stan Baggen and Peter van der Vlis, lawyers. The two main pillars of their argument: "A public evaluation [of the corona policy] can regain trust" and "A lack of trust erodes democracy", including the text of this article, also as a Dutch version.
A thorough evaluation will do the opposite: it will force us to face the facts that democracy no longer works and that this is precisely because of a lack of distrust of government policy and the suppression of that distrust.
Two excerpts from the plea of Baggen and van der Vlis in Trouw
"A public evaluation can regain trust in the government."Baggen/van der Vlis in Trouw
'Regaining trust' is a nice constructive thought, but one that does not sufficiently demonstrate the awareness that, unlike entrusting power, holding on to power is intrinsically evil. With power, it's like with precedence: you have to get it, not take it. Exercising power over others is limiting the sovereignty of those others. That means intervening on individual freedoms and (human) rights. Centralization of power is at odds with self-determination. This is true on an individual level, but also on a larger scale: for example, the EU curtails the sovereignty of member countries. Government representatives are inclined to sign the cross, because it offers more certainty from a career point of view. Interests are intertwined here, and it goes without saying that centralised interests are much more important than those of the
'Regaining trust' is a nice constructive thought, but one that does not sufficiently demonstrate the awareness that, unlike entrusting power, holding on to power is intrinsically evil. With power, it's like with precedence: you have to get it, not take it. Exercising power over others is limiting the sovereignty of those others. That means intervening on individual freedoms and (human) rights. Centralization of power is at odds with self-determination. This is true on an individual level, but also on a larger scale: for example, the EU curtails the sovereignty of member countries. Government representatives are inclined to sign the cross, because it offers more certainty from a career point of view. Interests are intertwined here, and it goes without saying that centralised interests weigh many times over.
A public evaluation will become a justification for a more suspicious attitude.
Trust in The System or in the officials?
The 'regaining of trust' is based on the somewhat naïve conviction that not only the officials within such systems of power must be trusted again, but also the system in which power-hungry careerists could go about their business. Checks and balances turned out to be ritual dances. Yet we are once again being urged to believe that those who now make false claims to save face will suddenly be able to resist the forces of The System in a new period. Please note: The System that they are building themselves and that offers them a position. Politicians even refer to all these positions together as a "House". They're not going to wash away the foundations underneath that. We have to take their word for it that from the next term of office they will act with integrity and transparency within a self-correcting system, even if they let things go completely haywire and many lives are involved in their mistakes. As long as they say sorry now. Let's bury the hatchet...
It's unfortunate, but that's not how it works.
Whether people have gained power, stolen it or inherited it, you should always distrust them, as it turns out. Those in power shrug their shoulders about, for example, a missing €5.1 billion. Without blinking an eye, they simply communicate on television that this is not true. At the very least, such an action sows doubt, because we trust politicians, don't we? It also polarizes: supporters see their confidence confirmed ('the minister says so himself!'), opponents are strengthened in their scepticism.
Tens of thousands of unexplained deaths after vaccination are brushed aside, lives are destroyed – and it is not the first affair in which unscrupulous action has been taken and facts have been withheld or distorted.
Why does that trust have to be restored? It is precisely misplaced trust that has allowed all these misunderstandings. Gullibility knew no bounds. The public should have been helped in this by the media, but what happened there requires an evaluation in itself. See also Tijs van den Brink, who calls TV virus chef Ab Osterhaus 'one of the best virologists there is'. Collective blindness is truly unimaginable.
With a thorough evaluation of the corona policy, policymakers are not only sticking their own necks in the noose. It will also be exposed that The System offers no protection against fatal blunders and the subsequent covering up of them for years, despite the fact that the stain in which they are rubbed is getting bigger and bigger. Anyone who is under the delusion that officials are going to poison the well from which they feed has too little life experience.
Where the conviction comes from that our political system will protect us from disastrous missteps next time is nowhere explained. The mechanism behind 'more trust' is therefore not clear.
A different system design doesn't solve that either. The current design may not even be that bad. A constitutional court could be an improvement, but in the countries around us it has not been of much use either.
It is inevitable that wrong turns are sometimes taken in terms of policy, and the policy elite holds on to the common umbrella all the more tightly when it storms. That's where things go wrong. They fiddle with the transparency, which should be inherent in The System, and with social and scientific rules and principles, so that something like 'accountability' becomes no more than a show, a ritual puppet show. That is precisely why distrust is the only remedy. If you want to make it sound a bit more positive, you can also call it 'control' or 'critical tracking'.
What does an evaluation bring about?
The corona period has been an unprecedented stress test that has brought a lot to light, but only for those who want to see it. An in-depth public evaluation will also confirm for those who do not yet see it that way, that a government never deserves trust, even with formally built-in control mechanisms. The cross-border policy that The System has produced during that stress test has been too damaging, its cover-up too shameful. A proper evaluation by the government is therefore impossible, simply because it would jeopardize the interests of the State. The State could declare itself incompetent and de facto wipe out all accumulated authority and that is not in the interest of the State, however justified it might be. (Also note that the interest of the State has become a different interest than the interest of the population.)
Minister Kuipers therefore invoked the State's interest when he was asked why certain data and considerations were not freely available. It's a more credible reason than the earlier "for privacy reasons". If that information makes it clear that you are cheating with The System as a cover, then it is in the interest of the State if you see yourself as the center of that interest. Another crucial fallacy.
An evaluation will show that The System 'The State' has not been able to prevent monstrous mistakes, whether they were the result of incompetence or good intentions. This is disguised afterwards by avoiding and condoning sore points, see, for example, the OVV reports and the latest "international audit", reported by Fritsander Lahr. Read on maurice.nl. The whitewashing slogan has become predictable. They are manifestations of a larger, underlying problem, namely that numbers, facts and science no longer matter when it comes to legendary state failure. Those facts then have to disappear, removed, gaslit and smokescreened.
The pile of evidence for that failure is getting higher daily. Those who do not accept this pile as evidence could at least debunk the underlying hypotheses. Publishing the data that has been kept secret until now should be enough. But instead, the criticism is hushed up, ridiculed or even punished and the data remains in the government vault.
But do they think that trust needs to be restored!?
If there is one place that should be distrusted by definition, it is the place where power is concentrated. This includes the controlling mechanisms, in the form of institutions that are paid by power to judge independently. (I would say: give it a try, independently and critically judging the person who pays your salary.). Control is not experienced as a snooping aid, but as an annoying obstruction. Substantive criticism that should result in grateful corrections is dismissed as disinformation. Anything to save face. And the whole body, by and by.
The most important thing about tribunals is their entertainment value
A harsh public evaluation is an option, but one with consequences for the possible perpetrators of violations of norms and laws. If this is organised internationally, it is called 'tribunal', a word with unpleasant associations. At most, such an evaluation will pick out a few scapegoats who can be ritually victimized, while 90% of those responsible get away with it. Not only cabinet members and other leaders, but I am mainly referring to the following journalists, politicians, civil servants and academia. And that while it is precisely they who have let those few victimized poor wretches have their way and even urged them to even more disproportionate policy or to even more desirable 'science'.
The media have provided support, which in turn has allowed politicians to draw the moral jokers. We still remember the one-two punch between Paulusma and Kuipers, the inciting Kuiken, the Thinktankers and their trolls whispered by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport/RIVM/NCTV, a legion of silent academics, professors and doctors, prize-winning collaborators, lustily twittering newsreels, corrupt government advisors and so on. If you put it that way, there is no saving it.
Responsibility or guilt?
From the policy top to the living room, all 'non-wappies' are partly responsible for the health terror of recent years.
Does that mean they are really guilty? No, they only lacked a healthy distrust of the government. Neither the newspapers nor the major state broadcasters gave any reason to do so. They don't know any better, that's not how their character structure works. That is not possible, because then you usually do not get very far in the often government-subsidized life of, for example, the education factories (600,000 employees), the health industry (1.4 million) or the media conglomerate (a much smaller group with decisive scope). It will be no different for the municipal and national employees (approx. 1 million). Approximately 30% of the workforce works in the public sector, paid for by public money. No one likes to bite the hand that feeds.
Governments are a necessary problem and do not deserve trust. This is emphatically NOT about the individuals such as politicians and civil servants who often do their work with integrity: it is about The System of Power that infects everyone who comes into contact with it. If you are immune to it, you will be worked out. That's a self-cleaning principle. See Omtzigt, whose divestment failed, FvD which, according to many, should be eliminated, and of course Arib. Unheard Netherlands doesn't parrot enough either: get rid of it.
"A lack of trust erodes democracy."Baggen/van der Vlis in Trouw
That was the second important quote. After all, leadership is needed in order not to fall into normless anarchy. Group agreements must be monitored and collectively revised when the group gives cause to do so. That requires, for example, control and enforcement, accepted by those who are led. They agree with each other to listen to that guidance. That does indeed require a form of trust. That has to be lived up to. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to verify at any time that your own trust is still justified and that the agreed rules are being followed.
It is now clear that the opposite is just as true: A lack of distrust erodes democracy. Every system of power tends towards absolutization, and that is how it should be: those in power must work with conviction. This means that there must be continuous vigilance, and that vigilance is a task of the population and its representatives. It should be on its hind legs at the first signs of faltering transparency. But the government conceals, distorts, disguises it, acts secretly, keeps secrets, is forgetful – and the population falls for it because the media does not show it. "They're just there anyway" you hear.
A government can only be trusted if it is watched with suspicion and can correct itself when asked.
Doesn't the media offer any hope at all? After all, they have the task of forcing transparency with their 'reporting'. Without transparency, there is no control – and so trust is impossible. Unfortunately, the media also appear to be spun into The System, for example through extra funds in busy times (see corona), lucrative government campaigns (see corona) and privileges/scoops/scoops/exclusive access (see corona). Their task has degenerated into policy support, or propaganda. Would a transparency institute help, or would it, like a judge or an ombudsman, once again allow the interests of the state to prevail when it really comes down to it?
I'm afraid it's going to be digging a bit deeper than 'evaluating'.