Moving on…to the blue Berkshires

I have moved. Again! My friends say.

Yes, I have moved many times during my years in America, mainly from coast to coast and back again, except for many months once in the Upper Midwest, more precisely in Minnesota, when I researched my book about the Scandinavian immigrants’ role and influence on Minnesota politics.

Now, after many years in Maryland just outside Washington, DC, and after a year and a half in Los Angeles, my new home is the little town of Great Barrington in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, in New England, America’s northeast corner, up towards Canada.

Moving is part of being American. People move for many reasons; one is politics, maybe more so today than ever in this politically divided nation. Politics played a role when my wife and I decided to move to Massachusetts. It mattered that this is a blue state, just like Maryland, although both have Republican governors, and just like solidly Democratic Los Angeles. Our congressmen, whose names and political ideology have become more important since we became U.S. citizens with the right to vote, have come to reflect our politics — in Maryland’s Montgomery County through the leading progressive Jamie Raskin; in Los Angeles, through Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee after the sweeping democratic election victory in 2018; and here in the Berkshires, through Richard Neal, for whom the election thrust him into the chairmanship of the important Ways and Means Committee and a leading role in the fight to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns.

The Berkshires is not an economically rich area with a median house hold in come of $39,000 per year. It’s rural, but unlike many other rural areas around America, its 131,000 residents are Democrats — Hillary Clinton captured over 67 percent of the vote here in the 2016. But, also here, Donald Trump is ever present, well covered in the excellent local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dinner conversations, just like elsewhere in this country, are often dominated by the man in the White House. The fact that Massachusetts has three presidential candidates, two Democrats – senator Elizabeth Warren and congressman Seth Moulton — and one Republican, former governor William Weld, has contributed to the heightened political debate in the Berkshires and in the state as a whole. No other state disapproves as much of Trump as Massachusetts, so it’s really no wonder that his only, at least so far, challenger for the Republican nomination has come from here.

In Great Barrington this time of the year, as in all the little towns among the rolling hills of the Berkshires, the residents have gathered to debate and vote on local issues in a sort of unique direct democracy. At my first Annual Town Meeting the residents filled the local high school’s auditorium in an impressive showing of political participation. Still, the 468 who came was only a small percentage of the town’s 4,746 registered voters of whom 1,235, or 26 percent, actually voted in the local office elections a week later. Not so impressive…

The local issues even required an extra evening of debate to resolve. They included the town’s budget, schools and libraries, roads and bridges, and many zoning issues. We gave the town’s middle school a new name, W.E.B. Du Bois, after the legendary African American scholar and civil rights leaders, who was born and raised here; we upheld a ban for the second time on small plastic bottles; and we debated, just like all the other Berkshire towns the issue of pot – marijuana – now legal in Massachusetts.

We already have a shop that sells recreational marijuana and most days, actually every day, there is a long line of buyers, many from neighboring New York and Connecticut, where pot is not, at least not yet, legal. Four more shops have been approved and are set to open. A possible new, big marijuana growing facility is being discussed up the road. Other surrounding towns have turned out to be more skeptical and have voted no to any pot businesses. Now, the residents of Great Barrington seem to be getting a bit nervous and, maybe, we should limit the number of marijuana establishments? Let’s look into that, the Town Meeting decided.

This is the first time I live in a small town. It’s exciting, in a low-key kind of way. Spring is finally here, with lush, green leaves on the trees in our back yard down to the quick little river that flows by. Winter, to which I should be used after growing up in Sweden, was a bit rougher than I had anticipated, especially after the previous so-called winter in Los Angeles.

And summer is rapidly approaching, with all of Berkshires cultural attractions waiting: the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood; art exhibits and concerts at MASS MoCA celebrating its 20th anniversary with Annie Lennox; August Renoir will be at the Clark Institute; the Norman Rockwell Museum turns 50; Herman Melville turns 200. There are exciting new plays at Shakespeare & Company and Barrington Stage; bluesman Buddy Guy is coming to town, and Arlo Guthrie is at his Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church, of Alice’s Restaurant fame, just across the street from our new home; and on and on…

It’s almost exhausting. And if the weather holds and you want to get away from it all, it’s easy to go hiking or swimming or canoeing or just sit by the river and listen to the water flowing by, quickly.

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The Somali breakthrough in Minnesota politics

The Somali immigrant community in Minnesota, the center of the Somali diaspora in the United States, has been nibbling for years at entering the state’s politics. Heavily concentrated in central Minneapolis, in the old Scandinavian neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, their first political success came in 2010 on the city’s school board, followed, in 2013, when a Somali immigrant was elected to the city council, and then, in 2016, when a Somali woman handily beat a long-time incumbent to get elected to the State Legislature.

These new Americans political success had come slowly and over a number of years, but last night’s primary election results in Minnesota were the definitive breakthrough of the Somali immigrant population in the state’s politics.

Not only did Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee woman, who came to American when she was eight years old, win the Democratic primary for a seat  in the US House of Representatives, but her seat in the State Legislature will be filled by a fellow countryman, Mohamud Noor.   They both handily won their Democratic primaries, Omar capturing 48 per cent of the vote and beating the experienced former Speaker of the State House, and Noor winning with 40 percent of the vote. Both of them will represent heavily Democratic districts, and there is little doubt that they will be elected in November.

The Somali election victories are truly historic and they underscore the fact that the Somalis are in Minnesota politics to stay. These first victorious Somali politicians are all first generation immigrants, born in the old country and arriving in America at various ages. As they settled in central Minneapolis, the neighborhood that used to be heavily Scandinavian and called “Snoose Boulevard” the area became known as “Little Mogadishu.” And just like the Scandinavian immigrants before them, these new Somali immigrants sought political clout using their ethnic concentration in the center of the city.

(For more on this, please see my book, Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics. Minnesota Historical Society Press)

But what is new, as Ibrahim Hirsi recently wrote on the Minnesota news site, MinnPost, and what he called a “milestone,” is that there now is a second generation Somali-Americans, born in America — “Somalis without the accent” — entering Minnesota politics. 28-year-old Omar Fateh, born in Washington, DC, is one of them, and he is like all the other Somali-American political candidates, well-educated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees,

But last night, Fateh only came in third in the State House District 62A, south of downtown Minneapolis. He was narrowly beaten by two other Somali-Americans competing in the Democratic primary, which was won by Hodan Hassan, a clinical worker, immigrant and a single mom. In a tight race, she captured 28 percent of the vote, beating also another Somali immigrant, Osman Ahmed, long active in Minnesota politics.

As the American-born political generation is starting to knock on the door, the first foreign-born Somali generation clearly still have political clout. But the fact that a new generation seems to stand ready to take over is a most encouraging sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No respite from “Circus Trump” out here in California…

At lunch yesterday at Los Angeles’ classic Greenblatt’s Deli from the 1920s when Sunset Boulevard was still a dirt road, “Circus Trump” in Washington, DC was all that my fellow patrons at the other tables talked about: the scandalous speech earlier in the day by the president on Long Island in front of police officers, basically encouraging them to use force when they arrested people; the firing of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; and, of course, the disastrous outcome in the Senate for the Republicans as they failed to kill Obamacare that they had vowed to do for seven years.

And that’s just in the last twenty-four hours…

The fall of Priebus was no surprise. He is yet another name in a long line of people fired or forced to resign in an administration that is still, remarkably, only six months old, but feels much older. But it is another ominous sign of a deeply dysfunctional White House. The fall of Priebus came shortly after his prime nemesis, Anthony Scaramucci, had taken him apart, using language full of expletives that chocked many. e is the new face of the Trump administ

As the new face of the Trump administration, “Little Donald” seems to want to be more Trump than Trump himself and, like his boss, he has no background and no expertise for his new role as the White House’s new communications director.  How long will “Little Donald” stay after the new chief of staff, John Kelly, walks into the White House on Monday?

In all, this has probably been Trump’s worst week since he became president, although it is really hard to say, because there have been so many disastrous weeks in this toxic and scandalous political environment that has followed the election of Donald Trump. The chaos in the White House has produced a crisis in American leadership as a whole.

Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column in conservative Wall Street Journal:

“The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity, skinny.”

Where is America heading and how long will America, and in particular the Republic Party and its leaders, tolerate this completely incompetent leadership of the world’s superpower? These questions have been posed for a while, but there is a new urgency in the comments as each week passes.

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post:

“The Court of Mad King Donald is not a presidency. It is an affliction, one that saps the life out of our democratic institutions, and it must be fiercely resisted if the nation as we know it is to survive.”

I recently, and temporarily, moved to Los Angeles. It’s not the first time I have gone west, but it still holds a special allure, in part because it is so far away from the rest of America, particularly from the Washington I had left. I looked forward to a bit of respite from the Trump circus.

If you follow the news, that has turned out to be impossible. Still, the political climate here is different. California, of course, is a Democratic stronghold, where the governor, Jerry Brown, is a Democrat working with large Democratic majorities in both the State Senate and Assembly. California is where Hillary Clinton captured 61.7 percent of the vote, or 8.75 million votes to Trump’s 4.83 million, in last year’s presidential election. No wonder President Trump has not visited California since his victory last November.

With its nearly 40 million inhabitants and a top-ten economy in the world, California is closer to a nation-state than any other U.S. state, and more and more you can hear talk about going it alone. There are also deep policy disagreements between California and the Trump administration, foremost of which is global warming. Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris Accord on climate change has met with fierce resistance here, led by Governor Brown, but with solid support from California’s residents, from both parties, as a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California clearly shows.

While over half of California voters approve of Brown and his agenda to fight global warming, only 25 percent approve of Trump, in general, and over 70 percent in the poll disapprove of is environmental policies as well as his withdrawal from the Paris accord on climate change. Here in California, over 80 percent of its residents think global warming is a serious or somewhat serious threat to California future economy and quality of life, and a clear majority wants the state to take the lad on this issue, regardless of what the federal government — in this case, the Trump administrations and the Republican majorities in the U.S. Congress, does or, rather, does not do.

So they favor more wind and solar power, more desalination plants, and they oppose more oil drilling oil off California’s coast. And over half in the poll states that they are willing to pay more for electricity and gasoline to help reduce global warming.

Remarkable numbers. No wonder Trump has stayed away.

 

 

“Here to stay? Journalist’s book considers the legacy of Minnesota’s Scandinavian-laced politics”

Here’s an interview with me in connection with my new book in today’s MinnPost, a leading Minnesota news site.

“For Bergman – American immigrant, political junkie, Swede – the journey was a heady mix of history and heritage,” writes Gregg Aamot.

https://www.minnpost.com/new-americans/2017/05/here-stay-journalist-s-book-considers-legacy-minnesota-s-scandinavian-laced-po?utm_source=MinnPost+e-mail+newsletters&utm_campaign=6b0c4d6b4b

 

“With immigration in the glare, read about Minnesota’s history”

“With immigration in the glare, read about Minnesota’s history is the headline on Lori Sturdevant’s column in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune about my new book, “Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics.” 

She writes, “Acceptance of immigrants is part of Minnesota’s tradition that could be sorely tested during the Trump years. But its a part to which Minnesotans should hold fast. “Scandinavians in the State House” makes that case well.”

Check it out, especially, as the sub headline says, if you have Nordic heritage although the value of the book goes beyond that.

http://www.startribune.com/with-immigration-in-the-glare-read-about-minnesota-s-history/420784343/

 

Hundreds came out for my Minnesota book events — thank you!

I am happy to announce that several hundreds came out for my three book events last week in Minnesota, organized by my publisher, the Minnesota Historical Society Press, and that they produced such great discussions on immigration and politics, both on this side and the other side of the Atlantic.

First at the American Swedish Institute (ASI) in Minneapolis, then at the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD), and, finally, in the Marine Village Hall above the library in Marine on St Croix, classic Swedish immigrant country.

So there are many to thank: American Swedish Institute president Bruce Karstadt and discussion moderator, former state legislator Tom Berg; history professor Scott Laderman at UMD; and Phil Anderson, president of the Swedish American Historical Society, and Marine library’s Anne Reich, who jointly hosted the evening where so many of the town’s residents turned out for the discussion with Carleton College professor Steven Schier and Uppsala University professor Dag Blanck.

Thank you all!

Off to Minnesota on a book tour!

I am off to Minnesota this week for three events to talk about my new book, Scandinavians in the State House — How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics. 

Wednesday: American Swedish Institute/Minneapolis, 6:30 pm.

Thursday: University of Minnesota/Duluth, 6 pm.

Friday: Swedish American Historical Society Spring Meeting/Marine on St Croix, 7 pm..

Exciting!  I look forward to seeing many old and new friends and to your comments and questions!

Here is a Q & A about the book on the MNHS Press’ website.

http://discussions.mnhs.org/10000books/2017/04/13/qa-with-klas-bergman-author-of-scandinavians-in-the-state-house/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+10000books+%2810%2C000+Books+Weblog+%3A+Minnesota+Historical+Society+Press%29

And here is a Q &A in Swedish:

http://www.amerikaanalys.se/2017/04/12/skandinaviska-politiska-spar-i-mellanvastern-idag/