Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Should we laugh or should we cry? We came back from a five week summer vacation in the Netherlands and what do you know: Donald Trump has consolidated his lead in the polls on the GOP side for the 2016 White House elections. Of course, at 15 months away from the voting booths, this means as much as the Cleveland Browns winning a pre-season game, but I still have to rub my eyes in disbelief. Are we really that alienated, frustrated and stupid?

Speaking of Cleveland, that is where, in about a year from now (July 18-21, 2016), the Republican convention will crown its contender for the White House. Who will carry the day there? The convention will not know who the Democratic nominee is going to be, since the Democratic convention in Philadelphia will come a week after the GOP gathering. The party will, by the process of elimination, have to find that person that can put the White House back in Republican hands, without knowing (for sure) who the Democratic opponent is going to be. The scenario will be most interesting if the democrats, somehow, avoid turning their convention into a crowning ceremony for the next Clinton.

I don’t think it will be Donald Trump coming out as the winner, for only one reason: Cleveland does not give him a large enough platform to display his ego. For the emperor of Manhattan to be contending with mere mortals is bad enough, to have to do it at ‘the mistake at the lake’ is outright demeaning. This may exactly be why the party bosses (about the only Americans not infatuated with Mr. Trump) have picked the city at the confluence of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie as the site for their convention. I am in good company in believing that the 69 year old caricature of an American capitalist will not carry the day, because a good number of political pundits, including New York Times columnists Ross Douthat and David Brooks, categorically assure us that Trump will not be president or even the Republican nominee.

But, regardless of who the GOP nominee will turn out to be—who knows a lot can happen in the 11 months separating us from the circus coming to Cleveland—it is a distressing thought that for almost a year we will have to witness the charade of all the characters who think that they are just the right candidate for the presidency parading across our TV screens. This spectacle would be impossible if it was not for the billions of dollars floating around looking for a political cause or campaign to support. Money, in this case, is the root of all evil. Isn’t it amazing that Americans will fight tooth and nail to avoid tax increases, but they voluntarily part with billions if it comes to buying lottery tickets or they think it will buy them political influence.

If you think about what the job of President of the United States really is, isn't it surprising that so many Americans are even in this race? Who wants the job? Well, that is clear, Donald Trump really wants it and he is used to getting what he wants and a virtuoso at it. In this case, it is well within his reach, because he is probably the only candidate who can simply buy the presidency.
Jon Lovett, in an August 18, 2015 article for The Atlantic, writes a futuristic piece “Looking backward on the Presidency of Donald Trump”. Of course it is speculative but it is equally foreboding. Is this what the American people want and deserve? Isn’t our political system screwed up enough, that it needs to be thrown further into demise by the election of an egotistical buffoon of the size of Donald Trump?

The American people already have plenty of reasons to be rejecting most of the other announced candidates for one of the following reasons:
·         You don’t allow the forming of a republican form of dynasty, which rules out electing another Bush or Clinton.
·         The baby boomer generation has had its chances to make a difference and wasted them all, so no-one over 60 years old should be nominated.
·         The American Presidency is probably the toughest, most demanding, job in the world so it should not be entrusted to people my age, card carrying AARP members.
·         Candidates capable of only producing soundbites without being able to present a coherent strategic plan for the nation should be disqualified.
·         Candidates intent on building a wall at our borders instead of looking at modern day information technology to keep undesirables out.
·         Candidates who refuse to acknowledge that we are all immigrants, who wrested this territory away from the Native Americans, and can’t differentiate between immigrants and undesirables.

Is anyone left standing if these criteria are applied?

America has now been an independent nation under 44 occupants of the White House. Most Americans cannot name more than a handful of men who have occupied the highest office in the country. They can be excused, because most of them have had a reign that was utterly forgettable or worse. It shows that America’s destiny is not dependent on who occupies the White House. Why then are we getting so worked up, for so long, about will be the 45th President?

Aren’t we better off ignoring this money infused circus and focusing instead on correcting the flaws in our political system? That’s what I advocate in my book “NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’. The American people will have a crucial decision to make: Are they going to believe that a single person can make the difference or will they accept that the 45th President will, like his/her recent predecessors, be doomed to failure if the rules of the game do not change?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


July 31-August 5, 2015

“Berend Botje ging uit varen
Met zijn scheepje naar Zuidlaren
De weg was recht, de weg was krom
Nooit kwam Berend Botje weerom.
Een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, zeven,
Waar is Berend Botje gebleven?
Hij is niet hier, hij is niet daar
Hij ging naar Amerika.”
(Dutch nursery rhyme)

We are finishing up on our pilgrimage back to the home country and it is time to review what we have seen and learned. In my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’ I compared the conditions I found in America in the early eighties (when we had to decide if we wanted to go back to Europe or immigrate to America, where we had been living for 7 years as ex-expatriates) with the conditions we encounter in modern day America. In this pilgrimage I had the opportunity to compare contemporary life in the Netherlands with contemporary life in America. It had been long since I had taken the time to look around in the Netherlands and interview people living there.

I find the Netherlands more beautiful and better organized than I remember it. Admittedly, I focused on and spent almost all of my time in the areas of natural beauty, which generally equates with low population pressure and unspoiled landscapes, like Zeeland, Brabant, Drenthe, de Achterhoek, de Veluwe, de Utrechtse Heuvelrug, Kockengen, and – most of all – Vlieland. But I also spent considerable time in Rotterdam, my college town, and found it more vibrant, cleaner and more cosmopolitan than it was when I lived there. Rotterdam has had the benefit of a succession of exceptionally competent and ambitious mayors who have propelled the city forward both economically, socially and architecturally.The current mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, was born in Morocco, came as a ten year old boy to the Netherlands, and is of Islamic faith. He acquired world-wide recognition when he addressed his many compatriots and fellow Muslims living in the Netherlands and bluntly told them that if they were unwilling to conform to Dutch culture and laws, they would be well advised to go somewhere else. He is a politician of a caliber we can be envious of in the U.S. This is the type of modern day politician that the world needs more of if it wants to deal effectively with the challenges of globalization and immigration.

We are deeply touched by the welcome we have received from family and friends, most of whom we had not seen in a long time. In almost 5 weeks we have not had to stay one night in a hotel. Our home base in Kockengen, in the heart of the country, was graciously made available to us by a dear old friend, while she was spending her summer at her property in France. In Zeeuws Vlaanderen we stayed at the home of a fellow member of the Round Table, who had moved the family for the month of July to the Belgian coast. We stayed four nights with Christie’s brother Jaap and four days with her brother Kees. We stayed one night with my 84 old brother Wolter and one night with college friends in Ulvenhout, in Brabant. On Vlieland we shared a big rental house in the dunes with Christie’s four siblings. In the process we had ample opportunity to compare notes about living in Holland versus living in America. It seemed that nobody wanted to trade places with us. Hospitality is a sacred tradition also in many areas in the USA and with most ethnic components of its population. But I found the hospitality experienced in Holland of special depth and breadth. Without exception, we found deep and sincere interest in our live-paths, in our points of view and in our family. I had in five weeks more, and more penetrating, conversations about life and its vagaries than I recall having back home in years. I found keen interest in my book and, in many instances, was met with probing and incredulous questions about my view of America today. Holland is a country with a tolerant, middle of the road, tradition and I found little or no understanding for the far left and the far right expressions of American politics. My friends and relatives in the Netherlands are stunned by the paralysis and dysfunction displayed in the American Congress and don’t understand the dynamics behind it. Who does? I get the sense that American leadership – as displayed during the World Wars – is still desired and expected here but found either misdirected or sorely missing.

The Dutch infrastructure, in contrast with America’s, is up to date. Public transportation of all kinds is abundantly available everywhere, and affordable. Combined with the popularity of the bike, the Dutch, are much less dependent on cars than we are. Which is a good thing, because, as it is, traffic jams and long delays are par for the course during rush hours on the highways in the Randstad (the big city region between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). Biking’s popularity means that Dutch kids have less trouble to stay in shape than their American peers who get bussed or chauffeured everywhere. I found the Dutch also much more environmentally conscious than Americans, as evidenced by their interest in clean energy, in combating the effects of climate change, in avoidance of car use in favor of public transportation or biking, in rigorous recycling and in deposits on the use of glass and plastic bottles.

The political climate in the Netherlands is very different from what we experience in America. The number of political parties is larger than ten, money influence in politics is, if it exists, undetectable to the naked eye. Of course it helps that, in the parliamentary system, the members of parliament don’t have to run for personal election. Their seat in parliament depends on the percentage of votes the party they belong to collects and on their ranking on the election list of their party. Candidates for parliament campaign for their party rather than for their own seat. They don’t have to hold out their hand at every election and don’t waste time on campaign donor events.Because of the multitude of parties participating in national elections, forming a government is by necessity a matter of building a coalition, which –in turn – means articulating an agenda, a platform from which to govern. The strategic direction for the government is negotiated up-front by the parties participating in the coalition government. National parliamentary elections are held every four years or upon resignation of the ruling coalition, whichever comes first.

Unavoidably, the question came up for me, if, now that I had a chance to give the Netherlands a second look, I find that I made a mistake by emigrating to the USA. It is a moot point. The die has been cast. The Jager family is, and will remain, firmly rooted in American soil. But I doubt if I would have left the Netherlands if, in the early eighties, I could have foreseen how life in the Netherlands and America would develop in very different directions from what I predicted at the time. I have to accept the reality that most of the contemporaries I went to school with, including our siblings, have done equally well or better in their careers than I have in the USA. Nor can I deny that their children are, almost without exception, at least as well educated and successful as ours.

Holland is a pleasant, tolerant and safe living environment. It appears well governed, managed and organized. It is evident that here the taxpayers get something tangible for their admittedly stiff taxes. Its people are enterprising, well-educated and culturally and socially aware. Its natural landscapes are breathtaking and all within 1-2 hours’ car ride from the center of the country. The USA undoubtedly has landscapes of more majesty, but most of them are hard to reach and far apart. It was one of my biggest surprises, that peace and quiet can still be found in Holland, in spite of the population growth from 11 million to over 16 million souls in my lifetime. It is easy to escape the Randstad and the rat-race in the Netherlands by a less than two hour car ride to one of these well protected oases. In Cleveland a two hour car ride gets me to Pittsburgh, Columbus or Detroit. Another surprise is how well the country has preserved its national heritage of centuries’ old buildings, churches, castles, windmills, homes and cityscapes. Anything of historic stature has been preserved and carefully and lovingly renovated or restored. Some of the priciest real estate in Holland is now found in these architectural treasures, notwithstanding the strict regulations protecting the originality and integrity of the objects.

It was a pilgrimage well taken and I am grateful for my heritage. My book is titled NEITHER HERE NOR THERE. It is a reference to the tug of war between my Dutch origins and my American present. In this pilgrimage I found that life in Holland is a life of opportunity for almost everyone with drive, ambition, and a purpose. It is a more equal society than found in America today. The choice between HERE and THERE has only become more complicated since I had to make it.