America — a nation without a leader

“Trump is doing harm and spreading misinformation while working for his own partisan political benefit — a naked attempt to portray himself as a wartime president bravely leading the nation through a tumultuous time, the FDR of the 21st century.”

That’s the Washington Post media correspondent and commentator Margaret Sullivan, who pleads with American television networks to stop live broadcasting the White House daily coronavirus briefings, usually led by President Trump.

That’s where we are today in America. We are a nation without a leader, where 472 Americans have now died, one here where we live in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, a state with over seven million inhabitants, where schools are already closed and where all non-essential businesses today were ordered closed by Governor Charlie Baker.

 

America is still not ready for a woman President

It is now, officially, a two-man race for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, and it is clear that America is still not ready for a woman president.

As Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, today dropped out of the presidential race, she joined her Senate colleagues, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, California’s Kamala Harris, and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who all had bowed out earlier. They were white, black; experienced; well-qualified; progressive; moderate; articulate, tough, energetic.

It did not help.

Four years after Hillary Clinton came so close to victory and lost in spite of getting almost three million more votes than Trump, writes Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, “we had a presidential field full of talented and accomplished women, and surely, so many of us thought, one of them might prevail. Yet they fell, one after another, until only the most talented and accomplished (Warren) among them was left. And in the end, she too was judged inadequate.  So, our more than 200-year-long streak of electing only men to the presidency will continue. Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected anything different.”

Left now are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, two white men, one of whom will face Donald Trump, another white man, in November. What does that say about gender equality in America? Well, that it is still a much more conservative country than the democracies of Europe and that gender equality lags far behind those European allies, where women for years have served as their countries’ political leaders.

Back in 1984, and way ahead of his time, Minnesota’s Walter Mondale became the Democratic party’s presidential nominee and chose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his vice-presidential running mate. They lost, and lost big, to Ronald Reagan, who was reelected by winning every state except Minnesota and the District of Columbia. It took until 2016 for another woman, Hillary Clinton, to once again be part of presidential ticket, and that did not end well, either, which Washington Post’s columnist, Jennifer Rubin, touches upon when she writes how  “commentary posited from the get-go that Hillary Clinton lost; ergo, women are too risky. The country is not ready. The race is too important to risk the nomination on a woman. There was zero evidence for the proposition that gender alone explained Clinton’s loss…To the contrary, women had won in overwhelming numbers in 2018, in large part by attracting female voters. Nevertheless, the narrative persisted, fueled by the mainstream media insistence that the failure to win white, working-class men in 2016 meant Democrats needed a white man to attract those voters this time around.”

Still, many believe that whoever finally wins the nomination – Biden or Sanders – there has to be a woman on the ticket. Biden is now the overwhelming favorite to win and Minnesota’s Klobuchar is politically closest to Biden. She is also from the Midwest, an important part of the country to capture for the Democrats. But Biden could also choose Warren to build the important bridge to the party’s progressive wing and keep the party united, or Harris, thereby having both a woman and an African American on the ticket.

So, November’s election could still be historic, although not quite to the degree it would have been with a woman at the top of the ticket. And that still seems a long way off.

 

With dizzying speed, Joe Biden races to the front

Events in the American presidential election campaign are overtaking each other with dizzying speed. What was conventional wisdom just a week ago – before the South Carolina primary on February 29 – has after Super Tuesday been completely trashed.

Almost counted out, Joe Biden is now in the lead. The front runner, Bernie Sanders, stumbled badly, and the field got thinner, a lot thinner — out is Tom Steyer; out is Pete Buttigieg; out is Amy Klobuchar; and out is Michael Bloomberg.

Only Elizabeth Warren remains, but her days are clearly numbered. After a series of third and even worse finishes, she did not even manage yesterday to win her home state, Massachusetts, coming in third after Biden 33 percent, Sanders 26, Warren 21, and Bloomberg 11. In my hometown, Great Barrington, in the western part of the state, with a population of a little over seven thousand, Sanders won with 691 votes, followed by Biden 606, Warren 515, and Bloomberg 180.

Biden surprised all evening as the results came in, from east to west, and ended up winning ten of the fourteen states. His huge victory in Virginia stunned observers and set the tone for the evening. And what followed surprised even more, when, in the North, he captured Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Maine. And his victory in Texas was truly mind-boggling – no one saw that coming. His support, just like in South Carolina, among the African American voters, continued to be solid, 60 to 70 percent. But he also made big inroads among white suburban voters, who, in many places, went to the polls in larger numbers than 2016 and even than 2008, when Barack Obama captured the presidency. That bodes well for November.

Sanders, on the other hand, failed to expand his support, and, writes professor Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, “it’s clearer than ever now that at least some of his support in 2016 was simply a function of being the alternative to Hillary Clinton. Matched up with Biden more directly now, it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to match his 2016 achievements.” Momentum is now with Biden. Still, Sabato adds, the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nominee might change again. “Certainly, Biden is going to be under renewed scrutiny, and his campaign performances have been shaky at best.”

The consequences of Biden’s weaknesses, when the Democrats do not have “an awesome” candidate, as Tom Friedman writes in today’s New York Times. the party needs to have an “awesome coalition.”  “That means a party that is united as much as possible – from left to center to right – so it can bolster the nominee against what will be a vicious, united and well-funded Trump/GOP campaign.”

Right now, that unity does not exist, although it took a big step forward with Biden’s former rivals, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, with his billions, all endorsing Biden and, thereby, the moderate wing of the party against Sanders’ left-wing progressivism, his “democratic socialism.” Biden, should he win the nomination, needs Sanders and his young supporters to win in November. On the day after Super Tuesday, Sanders showed no indications that he is ready to play ball, at least not yet.  And, so, the race goes on, to the next Tuesday and maybe the Tuesdays after that, all the way to June and then the convention in Milwaukee in July. For the Democrats that is a dark scenario indeed.

 

It’s Trump, stupid!

To defeat Donald Trump is the primary, no, the only, goal of the Democrats come November.  They forgot that at last Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas.

“If you’re someone who thinks Donald Trump needs to be sent packing, watching the Democrats attack one another like 14-year-olds fighting over the remote was depressing indeed, wrote Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who came away from the evening liking all the candidates less.

I, sadly, agree.

The six up on the debate stage lost their focus, they turned inwards, and the whole event turned into a vicious food fight, between…everybody! There was no serious policy debate, on any of the major issues, and foreign policy, the one area where the President truly has power, was completely absent.

Elizabeth Warren came to play a central role by fiercely attacking former New York mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, and discarding her earlier calls for unity in the party. Her attacks seemed to equate Bloomberg with Trump – just another awful billionaire –  without a word about Bloomberg’s solid political experience after twelve years as New York City’s mayor and his many years of political and financial support for Democratic, and liberal, causes like gun control and climate change.

It was a harsh and negative message. I have admired Warren for her policy focus, for her ideas and plans on a number of important issues: Medicare for All, wealth tax, childcare, college costs, consumer protection. All that was lost in Las Vegas. It reminded me of another debate, earlier in the campaign, when Kamala Harris harshly attacked Joe Biden. Afterwards, Harris also profited, both in the polls and in campaign funds, but the gains turned out to be short-lived. It remains to be seen if Elizabeth Warren now meets the same destiny.

The rest? Bernie Sanders yelled, as usual, but he largely got a free ride, in spite of being the front runner in the polls. Joe Biden did ok, but, as one commentator accurately described it, every time he opens his mouth, “you hold your breath.” This time, he avoided any major gaffe. That left Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who obviously do not like each other, free to go at each other, with abandon. They both lost.

And Bloomberg? Cool, but lame, and strangely unprepared. He failed in his first debate appearance — bombed, said many. But he is not on the ballot in Nevada today nor in South Carolina on February 29. His moment of truth comes on Super Tuesday, March 3, when he is on the ballot for the first time. Prior to that, in next week’s debate, he needs to step up his  game considerably to have a chance.  If he fails, he will not be saved by his billions.

An utterly depressing week with the Democrats facing strong head winds

It was not a quiet week in Washington, or in America, last week. Far from it.

Rather, it was a news-filled, momentous, and utterly depressing week, as Donald Trump, impeached by the Democrats in the House of Representatives, was acquitted by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, which voted with one exception to acquit the president as the  Democratic minority unanimously supported impeachment.

The acquittal came after a trial that was has more of a non-trial, a sham and a shame. The lead impeachment manager for the House, Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat from California, described the whole scene as “descending into constitutional madness” as he outlined the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Only Mitt Romney, Senator from Utah and the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, voted to impeach Trump. Now, I am no fan of Romney, but here he showed himself to be a true profile in courage.  For Trump, however, he became an immediate target and Don Trump Jr. demanded Romney’s expulsion from the Republican Party.

That Trump tolerates no opposition or dissent in the ranks has been made crystal clear many times, not the least in his lie-filled State of the Union speech to Congress at the start of the week. Compromise and reconciliation were nowhere to be found and there was was no attempt to expand his support beyond his faithful Trumpsters.

His ire against Romney was quickly followed by the firing of two members of his administration, both of whom had testified against him during the impeachment proceedings.   The firings of EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and national security adviser Alexander Vindman created a wave of comparisons with the so-called Saturday night massacre during the Watergate scandal. Obviously, Trump had learned nothing from his impeachment and acquittal. He was not going to change, he was not going to say he was sorry, he was not backing down, and Maine Senator Susan Collins was quickly proven wrong, and then ridiculed by the Democrats, for naively expressing her hope, as she voted to acquit Trump, that he had now learned his lesson.

As if this was not bad enough for the Democrats and their presidential candidates, the first stop during their long primary election road, the Iowa caucuses, could not have gone worse. No clear victor in much lower turnout than hoped for and expected, a turnout, which is so vital for the Democrats to have any chance for victory against Trump in November.  Then, they were unable to count the votes. Total fiasco. Scandal. And, of course, Trump and the Republicans immediately took advantage of this – how can they (Democrats) claim to run the country when they can’t even count their votes. In the end, after almost a week, the results showed that Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg ran even at the top, followed by Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar not far behind.

On Tuesday, they battled again, this time in New Hampshire, but the wind is blowing hard in their faces. All momentum, right now, is with Trump.

Still, for many present and former Republicans the road ahead is clear. For Jennifer Rubin,conservative columnist in the Washington Post, the election means voting for the Democratic nominee, whoever he/she will be, because a second Trump term would be “disastrous.” As she recently wrote, “almost four years ago, I checked out of the Republican Party, recognizing that the moral rot, intellectual dishonesty and authoritarian tendencies that led to embrace President Trump were a threat to our democracy. Events since then have proved my initial assessment horribly accurate.”

Republicans, she continued, have transformed themselves in an “authoritarian cult,” and the Republican-led Senate under Mitch McConnell has become a “lawless, amoral and destructive,” where “fairness, truth and the Constitution are subordinate to the exercise of raw power and the population of the judiciary with unqualified and partisan judges.”

Rubin is not alone among former Republican columnists at leading American newspapers, such as David Brooks, Michael Gerson, and George Will. For Washington Post’s Gerson, the November election will be “a referendum on the moral and ethical standards we apply to our political life. Will corruption, cruelty and coverups be excused and encouraged? Or will the boundaries of integrity, honesty and public spirit be redrawn?“  For Gerson, Congress “has largely failed to defend the democratic virtues essential to self-government. American voters had better do better.”

And, so, the American voters will have to do what the U.S. Senate failed to do and issue their verdict on a corrupt president by denying him another four years in the White House. I still think they will, but, then, I still have hope in America, although it has turned very dark.

 

All the Swedes in the National Hockey League…

From two lonely Swedes, Ulf Sterner in the 1960’s and Börje Salming in the 1970s, to today’s one hundred and six (106) — the third most from any country, according to a big article on ESPN.com. And the style of play in the National Hockey League has changed and quickened with them.

My Swedish heart took an extra beat…

https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/28496780i/the-rise-swedish-defensemen-how-victor-hedman-others-taken-nhl

“An excellent book,” writes Danish professor about my Minnesota book — nice!

“All in all, Bergman has written an excellent book that any layman or scholar with an interest in Minnesota’s Nordic past will enjoy reading,” concludes Danish professor Jørn Brøndal in his review of my book about Minnesota’s Scandinavian political legacy.

The review was published in the latest issue of the Norwegian-American Historical Association’s journal Norwegian-American Studies (https://www.naha.stolaf.edu).

Klas Bergman, Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017). 6×9 inches, 20 b&w photos, index. viii + 310 pp. ISBN 9781681340302. $19.95

By Jørn Brøndal

In this interesting book, Klas Bergman explores how Nordic immigrants and their American-born progeny helped shape Minnesota’s political culture all the way from the 1850s to the present. During those years thousands of Nordics participated in Minnesota politics, several of them reaching high positions of power, including twenty-one governorships from 1893 to 1999.

The book offers short, incisive biographies of an impressive array of Minnesota’s Nordic politicians. As one might expect, ample room is made for exploring such towering figures as U.S. senator Knute Nelson (dates in office 1895–1923), Governors John B. Lind (1899–1901), Floyd B. Olson (1931–1936), and Wendell R. Anderson (1971–1976), as well as vice presidents and later Democratic presidential nominees Hubert H. Humphrey (1965–1969) and Walter F. Mondale (1977–1981). More controversial leaders are also examined. The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety under Governor Joseph A. A. Burnquist (1915–1921) put civil liberties under massive pressure during World War I. Also, Burnquist’s fight in the 1918 Republican primary against Charles A. Lindbergh Sr. turned ugly. Governors Hjalmar Petersen (1936–1937) and Harold Stassen (1939–1943) each employed red-baiting and anti-Semitism in their election bids.

Two dimensions of Bergman’s study stand out. First, he demonstrates the historical importance of an amazing array of left-leaning grassroots activists, including such Swedish-American radicals as Walfrid Engdahl, Walter Malte Frank, and Carl Skoglund, each of whom left Sweden in the wake of the General Strike of 1909, only to resume their labor activism in Minnesota. Whereas Engdahl and Frank ended up joining the Farmer-Labor Party, Skoglund was a central leader of the landmark Minneapolis Teamsters’ Strike of 1934, later emerging as a Trotskyist and serving time in jail. Minnesota’s Nordic radicals, however, also included many Finns of the Iron Range whose reception in Minnesota was negative, to the point of one draft resister being lynched during World War I. The Finns, it turns out, were more politicized and radicalized than any other group, and when the American version of the Communist Party was founded in the early 1920s, more than forty percent of its members were Finns. During Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror, many Minnesota Finns made the disastrous decision of migrating to Soviet Karelia.

The second dimension of Bergman’s book that stands out is his comprehensive coverage of the various political currents coursing through Minnesota from the territorial days to the present. Here, the Scandinavians, especially the Norwegians and Swedes, played a central role. They did so first as staunch Republicans but from the end of the nineteenth century also as Populists and then as activists within the Progressive movement and its radical offshoot, the Nonpartisan League, in the early twentieth century. During the 1930s many of them joined the Farmer-Labor Party, “the most successful third party in American history” (150), and from 1944 the liberal Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), while also contributing to keeping the postwar GOP moderate and reform-minded. Generally prudent, pragmatic, and progressive—and oftentimes informed by a secularized version of Lutheranism—the Scandinavians of Minnesota helped build a result- and reform-oriented political culture.

From the turn of the millennium, to be sure, the traditionally progressive state GOP took a conservative turn. In that sense, Bergman suggests, even as the DFL “stayed true to its Scandinavian roots . . . the Republican Party became ever less Scandinavian” (194). Nevertheless, as Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota suggests, notwithstanding the recent waning of Scandinavian-American political leadership, “we are on the road that the Scandinavians have put us on” (252).

Based on an impressive amount of historical literature and primary sources, including oral history interviews and the author’s own talks with Minnesota leaders and grassroots, Bergman’s account is transnational in scope, focusing not only on Minnesota but also on Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, and Icelandic history. The book is skewed somewhat toward the Swedes, for instance, in its rather surprising coverage of the contemporary Somali presence both in Minneapolis’s Sixth Ward—an old Scandinavian stronghold—and in Sweden. Minor quibbles involve the book’s unclear distinction between the meaning of “liberal” and “progressive” and the use of “Scandinavian” and “Nordic” interchangeably. Of course, any analysis of Scandinavian influences on Minnesota’s political culture will have to include impressionistic elements, as Bergman’s book indeed does. To be pedantic, Danish-American George A. Nelson was not elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1899 but only years later (190). As a journalist rather than a historian, Bergman loyally quotes many historians while rarely challenging their accounts.

All in all, Bergman has written an excellent book that any layman or scholar with an interest in Minnesota’s Nordic past will enjoy reading.

Jørn Brøndal is professor of American studies at the University of Southern Denmark. He specializes in U.S. ethnic, racial, and political history.

–end.