“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.

Impeached! And Trump will find it harder to get reelected

And, so, Donald J. Trump has been impeached, and rightly so.

It’s a big thing in this country, where only three previous presidents have met with a similar fate. It’s history.

Trump, said a somber Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was an “ongoing threat” to national security, and he “gave us no choice.”

The outcome in the House of Representatives was never really in doubt, although the votes followed strict party lines, with only four Democrats declining to approve the two articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

All eight Democrats from my home state — Massachusetts – voted to impeach, led by my Congressman, Richard Neal, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

“His (Trump) actions,” said Richard Neal, “are so far beyond the pale that they have left us with no remaining recourse except impeachment. And so we will impeach.”

No Republican broke ranks and, so, the die is cast for partisan warfare to a degree not experienced in decades as we near the New Year and next November’s presidential election. Trump will seek reelection after the Republican majority in the Senate exonerates him by voting down the House’s impeachment articles. By then, there is no longer any doubt: the Republican Party has become Trump’s party. He leads it, he controls it. But that also means that the Republican Party will win or lose with Trump. Its fate now exclusively rests with Donald Trump.

Now, I will venture to say that I believe that impeachment will harm Trump’s reelection chances while further motivating the Democrats to turnout and vote, as maybe never before, to recapture the White House for whomever is chosen to lead the party next November.

Tonight, seven of the Democratic candidates will debate on national television. The race is still wide open. It’s been a ridiculously long process already with still no clear frontrunner. No one has caught on, no one has taken charge. Up and down. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others have seen themselves called upon and joined the race. It’s a mess. But, does it matter? I would argue, not so much. The main goal among Democrats is to defeat Trump. Their vote is, mainly, an anti-Trump vote, so choose a candidate who has the best chance to do that, and that will be the reason for many to go to the polls next November. It is going to be a referendum on Trump, a verdict on Trump. Nothing else matters.

In this light, being impeached cannot be seen as an asset for Trump and the Republicans. On the contrary. Yes, it might cement his support in his base and among his most loyal voters, but it will turn off even more of those independents and more traditional Republican who just cannot stomach him and hat he stands for.

“Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of crimes, corruption, and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics,” write some prominent Republican strategists in the New York Times today, who have founded the Lincoln Project to defeat Trump by rallying fellow Republicans, conservatives and independents. “Our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort” even if this means a Democratic victory next November.

As we all know by now, Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly three million votes but narrowly, and surprisingly, captured three key states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – where Democrats had won in a previous string of elections. Trump won Michigan by 11,000 of 4,6 million total votes cast, Pennsylvania by 34,000 of 6 million total votes and Wisconsin by 23,000 of 2,8 million total votes. That’s a total, narrow, winning margin of 68,000 votes, which somehow turned out to be enough for him to win the Electoral College and capture the presidency. Can Trump be so lucky again in 2020? I doubt it. In addition, he needs to find new voters, but he has not expanded his base in his three years in the White House, and now, with “impeached” forever associated with his name, his chances of doing so have likely diminished considerably.

A static base facing a highly motivated and expanded opposition does not bode well for Donald Trump in 2020.

 

 

Minnesota’s Scandinavian political legacy lives on!

Vesterheim, the magazine of the Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, recently published my article about how Scandinavian immigrants and their ancestors have shaped Minnesota politics.

The article is based on my  book, Scandinavians in the State House — How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics, published by Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2017.

It’s nice to see the continued interest in this unique Scandinavian aspect of American history and politics.

Enjoy, I hope!

VesterheimMinnesota072019

 

One is gone, but we still need many fewer Democratic candidates

Democratic California congressman Eric Swalwell never had a chance, so his decision this week to end his presidential dreams was not a surprise. What was a surprise, and what should be lauded, was the fact that he did not drag this out, that he decided quickly and after only one debate that this was, indeed, a dream and that he should continue his political career by being re-elected to Congress next year, which he will certainly be.

So, one is gone, but the Democrats still need fewer not more presidential candidates, and California billionaire Tom Steyer should be strenuously discouraged as he enters the field. No, we don’t need another candidate and we don’t need another billionaire…

Instead, more in the present crowd of Democratic hopefuls, should follow Swalwell’s good example, particularly the two political novices, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang. For me, solid political experience is so important in someone running for President, and they both totally lack it. But also others, many with slim such experience and with campaigns seemingly going nowhere, should seriously consider leaving, and soon: John Delaney, Tim Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard, Bill de Blasio, Seth Moulton, and Steve Bullock. The two Coloradoans, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, and Washington State Governor, Jay Inslee, could also be included in this group, even though Inslee’s emphasis on climate change and the environment should be lauded and should be a central part of the Democratic Party’s platform. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, whose campaign has generated weak support, could also be part of this group.

“The sooner the nonviable candidates leave, the sooner voters can size up the competitive contenders and the sooner the party can begin serious debate about what the candidates are actually proposing,” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote recently. I totally agree.

While I am at it, I also want make a pitch for party membership when running for President in the Democratic primaries. Bernie Sanders is not a member, so…But maybe this will sort out itself eventually, as Sanders’ star power from 2016 is fading, although he is presently in second place with a polling average of 18.6 percent during the first six months of this year, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. However, he is far behind Joe Biden at 31.6 percent and not much ahead of Kamala Harris at 14.6, Elizabeth Warren at 11.9, and Pete Buttigieg at 11.4 percent. The rest are in single digits and many have less than one percent support.

As I wrote after the first two Democratic debates, none of the candidates has my vote. Not yet. Undoubtedly, and eventually, one of them will, as I will never vote for Donald Trump. Defeating him is not only the main goal in next year’s elections but the only goal. So I am eagerly looking forward to the two debates in Detroit at the end of July, and that, by then, we are left with a handful of serious Democratic candidates to challenge Donald Trump.

After two debates, none of them has my vote

Twenty Democratic hopefuls, on two nights, recently tried to show the record large television audience that they were presidential material, that they could lead the United States of America.

They all failed. None of them secured my future vote. Who, of them, can beat Trump? That’s the goal. That’s the only goal. No other matters. But, at this point, I am not sure.

Instead, I asked, why they were even there on the stage? And why this spectacle a year and a half before next year’s November elections? The length of this campaign is ridiculous and so are many of the candidates, these Presidential “wannabes,” as the veteran Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King recently wrote, who are wasting our time. This election “is no time for start-ups.” Indeed!

Two women won the first and then the second debate. Elizabeth Warren must be admired for her energy and intellectual power and for the fact that she has presented proposal after proposal to solve America’s problem. I agree with her. But can she beat Trump? Kamala Harris won the second debate, based on her attack on Joe Biden, but did she go too far and will it come back and haunt her? Joe Biden bombed. Bernie Sanders’s message was old and tiresome. Pete Buttigieg was eloquent, but a mayor of South Bend, Indiana just won’t do.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar and the two Texans, Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, all have some political experience. But why are they running? And who are the rest, Williamson, Yang, Gabbard, Stalwell, Ryan, etc? Why do they think they think can run the largest and most important country in the world with little or no political experience? Should there be no limit to a person’s ego? Why don’t they run for governor, or the senate, or the House, or for some local office.

This is ridiculous. I have said it before, but it bears repeating: amateurs – stay away from politics. Look at Donald Trump – enough said!

Still, more debates will take place, possibly with some even more unknown and unproven presidential hopefuls. This can’t be the way to choose the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States. The primary system is broken, and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen blames the Democratic Party, which has “opted for increased chaos,” as he wrote in a recent column and concluded:

“For too many candidates, running for the nomination is a no-cost exercise in brand enhancement. It’s ridiculous that almost anyone can be a celebrity . . . or run for president. There ought to be a difference.”

The only hopeful result of the two debates was the record breaking television audience, fifteen and eighteen million viewers, respectively. That points to, hopefully, a large, maybe record breaking, voter turnout next year, which is needed to beat Trump.

 

 

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.

Academic journal reviews my Minnesota book

My book on Minnesota’s Scandinavian political legacy (Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics) has been reviewed in “The Journal of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study.”

A “tour de force,” writes Daron W. Olson, professor at Indiana University East. Bergman, he continues, “has written a comprehensive and balanced account of Scandinavian politics in Minnesota” and “he makes a strong case that Scandinavian cultural values have shaped the political culture of the state.”

The review can be found in the Scandinavian studies’ journal Volume 90, No. 4, Winter 2018, published by the University of Illinois Press, http://scandinavianstudy.org/our-journal. My book was published in 2017 by Minnesota Historical Society Press.