The dark day in Duluth one hundred years ago…

Yesterday, June 15, 1920, was exactly one hundred years since three young African Americans were lynched and killed in the city of Duluth on the North Shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota.

The decades around the turn of the 20th century in Minnesota were years of political upheaval and discontent, agrarian protest movements rising up against the power of the corporations and income inequalities, increased radicalism, and new political constellations. It was a time of Populism and Progressivism, of the Farmers’ Alliance and the Non-partisan League, of the most contentious, and scandalous, gubernatorial election in Minnesota history, of massive strikes by the miners on the Iron Range, of the election of a socialist mayor in Minneapolis, and, on top of that, abroad, the Russian Revolution and the rise of communism while America entered the Great War in Europe. It was also a time of violations of civil liberties, of political repression, which the U.S. Department of Justice called “the most serious interference with civil liberties” in the whole country, and a time when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) flourished in the Midwest, particularly in Minnesota.

The dark years during World War I in Minnesota seemed to have no end when tragedy struck in Duluth. What happened then shook not only the state but the whole country. On that day, a mob of between 5,000 and 10,000 stormed the local jail and dragged three of six young African Americans from a touring circus, arrested for suspicion of having raped a young white woman, out on the street, beat them, and lynched them by hanging them from a Duluth lamp post, one by one.

Lynchings were not uncommon in America at the time. Between 1889 and 1918, over 3,200 people had been lynched across the nation, 218 of them in northern states and at least 20 of them in Minnesota, where, by 1920, the author Michael Fedo writes, “The intolerance, openly and tacitly approved by the Commission (of Public Safety) took forms of hatred toward Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.”  The doctor who examined the young woman stated that “I don’t think she was raped.” Still, seven black circus workers were indicted and one was convicted, serving more than four of a 30-year jail sentence, while 25 white men were indicted for rioting and twelve for murder. Three of the rioters were convicted and served less than two years in prison. No murder conviction was ever obtained.

Duluth had at the time a population of around 100,000, of whom 30 percent were foreign-born, many Swedes, Norwegians, and Finns, but only about 500 blacks. As soon as he heard about the lynchings, Governor Jospeh A.A. Burnquist, a Swedish American, dispatched two companies from the Minnesota National Guard to Duluth, and he launched an investigation about the inefficient response of the Duluth police. But Burnquist, who happened to be the chairman of the local St Paul chapter of the civil rights organization NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, never put his weight behind it and never launched an independent investigation about the tragedy. All indications were that the Governor wanted little to do with what had occurred.   Despite pleas from the NAACP after an investigation found the three lynched not guilty of the alleged rape, Burnquist never officially declared that the three young black men were innocent.

There were many with Scandinavian names involved in the lynching, on both sides, reflecting the large Scandinavian population in Duluth. Among the police, police sergeant Oscar Olson led the fight in trying to stop the mob from getting to his prisoners. Olson, who joined the Ku Klux Klan after the lynching, later became Duluth’s chief of police and was shot to death during World War II while trying to make an arrest. Others were patrolmen Jacob Nystrom and Victor Isaacson. In the mob were found 19-year-old Swedish-born, Carl Hammerberg, one of the three rioters convicted and sent to prison, and Leonard Hedman, a 23-year-old high school graduate and World War II veteran, who was said to have a bright future before the lynchings. Hedman was acquitted.

The lynchings in Duluth were hushed up. School text books did not mention them. For years, it was as if they had never happened, But photos were taken and postcards were made, and Bob Dylan, born in Duluth, shone light on the tragedy in his classic “Desolation Row” from 1965 with the opening lines:

“They’re selling postcards of the hanging,

They’re painting the passports brown,

The beauty parlor is filled with sailors,

The circus is in town.”

Still, most Minnesotans had never heard of the Duluth lynchings until 1979, when Michael Fedo’s book, They Was Just Niggers – quoting one in the mob — came out, and, particularly, when a new version of the book, The Lynchings in Duluth, was published in 2000. A wider discussion ensued. The unmarked graves of the three lynched African Americans in Duluth’s Park Hill Cemetery were finally inscribed with the victims’ names, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie.  In 2003, at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue in downtown Duluth where the lynching had taken place over 80 years earlier, a memorial was raised to the three young men.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Paul H. Anderson, gave a speech at the dedication of the memorial. You know, he told me in an interview, they didn’t know what the three young men looked like, so they had three students from the local high school stand as models. It’s a nice memorial, quiet and serene. The inscription says, “An event has happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent.”

The year after the Duluth lynchings, the Minnesota State Legislature passed an anti-lynching law, 41-0 in the Senate and 81-1 in the House. Today, in Duluth, the Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial, Inc. organizes days of remembrance every month of June, with the purpose of “fostering racial justice in our community through education, reconciliation and healing.”

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), long dormant, had by 1915 a new life and was by the 1920s flourishing in the Midwest, not the least in Minnesota, according to Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle’s 2013 book The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota, and particularly after the 1920 Duluth lynchings. By 1922, the KKK claimed that its Duluth chapter had 1,500 members and by the mid-20s, the Klan was reaching the height of its power. Not one county in Minnesota was untouched by Klan, which held its first state-wide konklave, or convention, in the town of Faribault in 1924 with around 2,500 participants, according to a Klan report cited by Hale. Organized by the Steele County KKK, Klan Park in the town of Owatonna was the scene of the next three konklaves. After the third one, the power of the Klan in the Midwest started to decline, partially because if internal scandals. In July 1930, only 500 people participated in a day-long KKK picnic in St Paul. Still, in 1947, a Klan member, Stafford King, challenged Luther W. Youngdahl for the Republican nomination as governor. He lost, but tried again, in 1952, running against C. Elmer Anderson in the Republican primary. Again, he lost.

Minnesota allowed Klan chapters to be incorporated in the state. The KKK drew from fraternal orders such as the Masons and Shriners, and part of its strategy was alliances with Protestant ministers, especially evangelicals, who believed that the Christian faith should guide political and social life and tried to inject religion into Minnesota’s public schools. In 1922, after reports that some members of the Minneapolis police force belonged to the Klan, the mayor forbade the city’s police officers from being members in the Klan, and in 1924, a hard-charging Scandinavian prosecutor in Minneapolis, who had taken on the Klan, ran for governor.  He was to become a legend in Minnesota politics. But it was not until 1997 that Minnesota Secretary of State, Joan Anderson Growe, dissolved all KKK charters and licenses together with all other unregistered non-profits, as authorized by Minnesota statute. Writes Dorsey Hatle, Minnesota was one of the last states in the Midwest to give up on the Ku Klux Klan.

So, Trump, what are you running on?

So, Donald J. Trump, what are you going to run on in November?

  • On over 20 million unemployed Americans — more than at any time since the Great Depression in the 1930s?
  • On the 1.284 million coronavirus cases in the United States with almost 80,000 deaths, or 28 percent of the 272,000 who have died around the world?
  • On the fact that, globally, the death rate is 34 per one million, while the death rate in America is 232 per one million?
  • On your chaotic, actually non-existing national coronavirus strategy, with little testing and tracing and with every state fending for itself?
  • On a dysfunctional national health care system, which has failed the country as it was needed the most, and as you still continued to end Obamacare?
  • On your growing isolation in the world in the middle of a global pandemic, as you stopped funding WHO, the World Health Organization, and declined to participate in a world-wide vaccine donor conference?
  • On the forlorn voices and heart-breaking stories of all Americans, as seen through the 21 victims in today’s New York Times, who now discover that America is brutal country, without a safety net, and where those who lose their jobs also lose their health insurance and even their home, and lose hope?
  • On his impeachment?

In 2016, Trump ran on MAGA, “Make America great again,” and he won, barely. He was, I have argued, incredibly lucky to do so. He lost the popular vote but captured three key states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – by a total of only 68,000 votes, enough to win the Electoral College and capture the presidency. To win in November, he needs to be lucky again but with a now highly motivated Democratic Party, he also needs to find new voters, beyond his faithful base. But he has shown no inclination, and no ability, to do so. The coronavirus has shown him at his worst, a clueless non-leader, and, now, polls show that seniors around the country have soured on him. In RealClear Politics poll averages, Trump trails Joe Biden nationally by 4.4 percentage points and in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and even in Florida, Trump’s new home state.

This time, Donald J. Trump does not have much to run on — it’s hard to run on fear,  scandals, incompetence, crisis, but, most of all, on chaos. It’s hard to run when 57.6 percent of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track and when only 35 percent think the country is heading in the right direction.

Still, it’s going to be a hard-fought election. But, as former Republican Peter Wehner wrote in The Atlantic, the coronavirus will likely be when everything changed and when Americans saw “the con man behind the curtain.” Instead of uniting America during this pandemic, Trump has divided the country even more. But under Trump, as George Packer wrote, also in The Atlantic, about America as a failed state, nothing will change, when change, fundamental change, is so urgently needed.

That’s why November is so important and why it can’t come soon enough. We need to end this nightmare.

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.

 

“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!

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