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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swedish-American Historical Quarterly on my book “Scandinavians in the State House”

Here is a review of my book about the Scandinavian political legacy in Minnesota. It is written by Kevin Proescholdt, editor of the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, and published in January 2018, Vol. 69, No. 1.  

Bergman, Klas. Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics. Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017. 310 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index, endnotes. ISBN: 978-1- 68134-030-2.

Minnesota is often referred to as the most Scandinavian of all the United States. Tens of thousands of immigrants from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland did indeed settle in Minnesota, and over time these immigrants exerted an enormous influence on the state, including its politics. Since 1892, for example, Minnesota has had twenty governors of Nordic descent. Between 1915 and 1976, every Minnesota governor was of Swedish or Norwegian descent except for one Finland- Swede and one Dane. And the numbers of these governors are dwarfed by the thousands of Nordics who have served in local and county positions and state legislative offices, across the state and through the decades. Two such Nordics from Minnesota have even served as vice president of the United States.

Klas Bergman’s Scandinavians in the State House tells the story of the Scandinavian influences in Minnesota politics, and how those influences have shaped, and continue to shape, Minnesota politics today. Far more than just a compilation of Scandinavians who were elected to offices in the state, and far more than an uncritical filiopietistic, cheer–for-our- own-ethnic-group portrayal, this book delves into the widely varying backgrounds of Scandinavians in Minnesota, and how that diversity of experiences helped create the rich and enduring influence on the politics of the state.

The book is arranged somewhat, but not strictly, chronologically. This deviation from a purely chronological arrangement allows the author to delve more deeply into topics that may not neatly fit a straight chronological pattern, topics such as “Radicals in Exile” or “Finns on the Range.”

The books begins in detail looking at the “four pioneers” in the state capitol, the first Scandinavians to be elected governor of Minnesota: Norwegian immigrant and Civil War veteran Knute Nelson in 1892, a Republican; Swedish-born John Lind in 1898, a Democrat; John A. Johnson, also a Democrat and son of Swedish immigrants, elected in 1904; and Adolph Olson Eberhart, also born in Sweden, and elected as a Republican in 1908. Though traditionally affiliated with the Republican Party, “the Scandinavian vote was far from monolithic,” even in these early years of gubernatorial success.

The cleavages among the Scandinavian voters were widened even further during the tumultuous years between the turn of the twentieth century and the end of World War I. The Nonpartisan League gained strength among Scandinavians during this time—especially in rural areas—and Swedish immigrant Charles A. Lindbergh Sr. (the father of the famous aviator) became a nationally recognized member of Congress from Minnesota and opponent of World War I. Lindbergh challenged Governor J. A. A. Burnquist (the son of Swedish immigrants) in the Republican primary for governor in 1918 amid the toxic politics of war-time repression and strident xenophobia, and eventually lost to Burnquist, splitting the Swedish vote mostly along urban-rural lines.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is “Radicals in Exile,” a chapter reprinted in the April 2017 issue of this journal. This chapter provides a nice counter-balance to the image of Swedish immigrants in Minnesota as pioneer farmers like Karl-Oskar from Vilhelm Moberg’s emigrant novels. The chapter follows the lives of three Swedes—Walfrid Engdahl, Carl Skoglund, and Walter Malte Frank—who had all been blacklisted in Sweden for participation in the General Strike of 1909 or for other labor activities, and were essentially forced to emigrate. Though none of the three was ever elected as governor, all three became active in Minnesota politics via such avenues as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies), the Farmer-Labor Party (later the Demo- cratic-Farmer-Labor Party), the Socialist Party, or the Communist Party.

After World War II, the author writes of the emergence of the two modern political parties in Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party, led by Nordic-American Hubert H. Humphrey; and a progressive Republican Party, a moderate and internationalist party shaped by the former “Boy Governor” Harold Stassen of German/ Czech/Norwegian descent. The author attributes much of the progressive nature of the state and its politics to the Scandinavian influences brought by the masses of Scandinavian immigrants who settled in the state and became involved with the state’s politics and public life.

Klas Bergman ends the book in a most interesting way. In the penultimate chapter, entitled “From Snoose Boulevard to Little Mogadishu,” he describes how Somali immigrants of today have taken a page from the playbook of the old Scandinavian immigrants in the south Minneapolis Sixth Ward. Once a stronghold of Scandinavian Americans, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and the broader Sixth Ward today have become a stronghold for Somali immigrants. Like their Scandinavian predecessors, the Somali immigrants have exerted their political power, and with growing success. In 2013, for example, Somali immigrant Abdi Warsame won an impressive victory over the incumbent city council member to represent the Sixth Ward on the City Council. In 2016 Ilhan Omar, a thirty-three-year-old Somali-American woman who had fled Somalia as a child, defeated a long-time DFL member of the state legislature, becoming the first Somali American elected to any state legislative office in the country. The Somali-American immigrants of today are following the same path to political office in the same neighborhoods that were blazed by the Scandinavian immigrants of a century or more ago.

There is much to recommend in Scandinavians in the State House. It is well researched (including citations of many articles from this Quarterly), well written and well documented, and the author conducted more than ninety interviews to supplement his meticulous research. It is a must-read for understanding the influence of Scandinavian Americans on the political life of Minnesota.

KEVIN PROESCHOLDT

EDITOR, SWEDISH-AMERICAN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

http://www.swedishamericanhist.org