In continued search of Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy…

June is a good month for my continued search https://klasbergman.com/2013/03/20/in-search-of-minnesotas-scandinavian-legacy/ for the Scandinavian legacy in Minnesota… Maypole goes up at ASI …from the Danish Day at the Danish-American Center on the banks of the Mississippi, to the Scandinavian Folk Music Festival in little Nisswa up north where musicians from all of Scandinavia had gathered to play, to Midsommer celebration and the hoisting of Maypoles everywhere, at the American-Swedish Institute (ASI) in Minneapolis, at the Gammelgården Museum in Skandia, at nearby Lindstrom’s Nya Duvemåla, the replica of Karl Oskar’s and Kristina’s home from Vilhelm Moberg’s epic about the first Swedish immigrants to this uncannily Swedish landscape around the Chisago Lakes some miles north of the Twin Cities, and at Svenskarnas Dag, Minnesota’s classic Swedish heritage day, which this year was the 80th time that it was celebrated in Minneapolis’s Minnehaha Park.

National costumes and traditional fiddle music everywhere.  Fiddlers Paul Dahlin and his son Daniel, third and fourth generation Swedes, play their grandfather’s and great grandfather’s music from Rättvik at Lake Siljan as well as anyone, and, for someone like me, who spent every summer as a boy in Rättvik, tunes like Gärdebylåten and Gånglåt från Mockfjärd brought, if not tears to my eyes, strong memories…

There was traditional choir song by the ASI Male Chorus and the ASI Cloudberries, Svenskarnas Dag Girls’ Choir, and Flickorna Fem; Vasa Jr. Folk Dancers danced to old tunes,  and the national anthems, both Swedish and American, were part of the celebration, although most of crowd needed a printout of the text of their old anthem, while they belted out their new one, by heart.

And everywhere are those for whom the Swedish heritage seems to mean something special, spurring them to volunteering and action.

At Gammelgården in Skandia, the director Lynn Blomstrand Moratzka has helped built up quite an outdoor museum next to the Elim Lutheran Church’s Cemetery, where the names on the grave stones are Carlson, Mattson, Olson, Anderson, Edstrom, Lindgren, Holm, Peterson, Spjut, and on and on.

Girls's Choir at SkandiaAlice and John Mortenson at Nya Duvemåla

What would Nya Duvemåla be without John and Alice Mortenson, two eighty-year-olds, whose ancestors came over from Skåne and Värmland, and who now lovingly tend to the old homestead on Glader Boulevard with Glader Cemetery close by. It was established in 1855 as the first Lutheran cemetery in Minnesota and is the final resting place for Vilhelm Moberg’s fictional Karl Oskar and Kristina.

Or, for that matter, what would Svenskarnas Dag today be without Ted Noble and Dan Nelson, chair and vice chair for the big day that once drew tens of thousands to Minnehaha Park but now draws a considerably smaller, but no less, enthusiastic crowd. We are looking for a younger generation to take over to keep the legacy alive, but it’s not easy to find, says Ted Noble.

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In search of Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy…

Swedish writer and feminist activist Fredrika Bremer once wrote way back in the 1850s, “what a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become.”  Minnesota did become that new Scandinavia, with hundreds of thousands of Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, and Icelandic immigrants settling here during many decades, up until 1930.

Still today, 32 percent of Minnesota’s 5.4 million inhabitants are of Scandinavian, or Nordic, descent, an important part of Minnesota’s legacy and an important part of modern Minnesota.

It’s still winter in the Upper Midwest, just south of the Canadian border, as I noticed during a recent visit, with piles of  graying snow along the roads and icy sidewalks. The air bites, and as in my boyhood’s Stockholm by this time of the year, everyone longs for spring.

The Twin Cities — Minneapolis and St Paul – do not look much like Stockholm between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, although the Mississippi River meanders impressively through the two cities. The prominent New York City restaurant “Aquavit” opened here a decade or so ago, but had to close a few years later. Last year, “The Bachelor Farmer” opened and, according to the New York Times, “has given Scandinavian food a much needed adrenaline shot.”

It’s a nice, modern, friendly place, and difficult to get a table. It seems that Minnesotans like what  they serve, although I couldn’t find much that resembled traditional Swedish cuisine, like gravlax, herring, meatballs, or even the wonderful Västerbotten cheese.

American Swedish InstituteFor that, one has to go to “Fika” — the modern restaurant in the American Swedish Institute’s (ASI) splendid new wing, the Nelson Cultural Center, which opened last year. It sits next to the classic mansion that Swedish newspaper publisher Swan Turnblad donated in 1929 and what eventually became the American Swedish Institute.

What a sight it now is, dominating Park Avenue in the middle of Minneapolis!  None of the other Nordics have anything similar, and ASI director Bruce Karstadt is rightly proud and excited about his institute’s future.

In the search for Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy, Scandinavian Studies programs are alive and well at several universities like Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, St. Olaf College in Northfield, and the gigantic University of Minnesota in the middle of the Twin Cities. Swedish language classes seem to thrive and the students’ knowledge of Swedish was impressive.

But maybe the most impressive proof of Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage one finds at the gorgeous State Capitol in St Paul, designed by the prominent architect Cass Gilbert. The front of the Capitol is dominated by three statues of former governors, Knute Nelson, born in Norway, Swedish-American John A. Johnson, and Floyd B. Olson (photo), the legendary Norwegian/Swedish-American, who led Minnesota during the Depression, but who died young, just as he was about to achieve national prominence.Floyd B. Olson

And inside, the halls of the Capitol are filled with the portraits of previous governors —  John Lind and Adolph O. Eberhart, both born in Sweden, and of a long series of Norwegian-, Swedish-, and Danish-Americans by the name of Anderson, Andersen, Benson, Burnquist, Christianson, Rolvaag, Petersen,  and Arne Carlson — between 1991 and 1999.

After Carlson, Minnesota has been led by Jesse Ventura, Tim Pawlenty, and, now, Mark Dayton – none of them Scandinavians.  An end of an era, or?

“God fortsättning” in the New Year — that’s doubtful…

In Sweden, my old home country, we used to say “God fortsättning” after the holidays — “good continuation” in the New Year. That’s not an expression you hear in America, which is perhaps as well, particularly in these times of the financial cliff, the debt ceiling, and the political disharmony in Washington.

Yes, the cliff was avoided but at what price? Was it worth it?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wondered if the deal was a “Pyrrhic victory,” a tactical victory that could pave the way for a major defeat later this year. Yes, the victory was tactical in the sense that the Republicans in Congress for the first time since 1993 voted for a tax increase. But what else? It did nothing to resolve the country’s major economic problems, the debt, budget deficit, unemployment. The settlement contained no new stimulus money to invest in the woefully neglected infrastructure or to create new jobs. Remember, the U.S. still has almost eight percent unemployment. Last Friday’s figure of 155,000 new jobs during December was certainly acceptable, but not more. Many more jobs are needed, every month, to seriously tackle the unemployment crisis.

In the deal, President Obama had to give up on his campaign pledge to raise taxes for everyone earning more than 250,000 dollars per year. Instead, the limit was set at 450,000 dollars, meaning than less than one percent of American tax payers will see their taxes increase. Those are not middle class figures. These are high income earners, who will now be exempted from paying their fair share at the same time as more revenues are needed but when Americans are paying less in income tax than the populations of other developed countries. As Stephan Richter pointed out in The Globalist:

“In all the other countries that come to mind, protecting such levels of income is the sole preserve of conservative parties. In the United States, it is a matter of bipartisan consensus.”

Yes, America IS different from Europe –it’s certainly more conservative. In America, taxes are toxic in a way they don’t seem to be in Europe, maybe because Europeans feel that they get something for their taxes, like universal health care, good public transportation, and affordable education all the way through college?

Washington is also similar to Brussels, if you read The Economist, which called the cliff deal an “abject failure” — “Washington’s pattern of dysfunction is disturbingly similar to the euro zone’s.”

But Europe has also made progress, averted disaster and come together around the euro, as Floyd Norris recently wrote in the New York Times, wondering: “Will the United States follow the European path in 2013? Let’s hope so.”

That’s not likely to happen. With the debt ceiling crisis and the resolution of the automatic spending cuts looming in a couple of months, the Republicans seem primed for revenge after the cliff deal, which could make the cliff deal negotiations come to seem like child’s play.

“Good continuation…” well, the New Year actually doesn’t look that good.

Will President Obama finally take on the gun lobby?

”We’ll see what happens. Obama still has to do something other than speak”, writes Amy Davidsons today on her blog ”Close Read” in The New Yorker.  Exactly!

ObamainNewtownBut President Obama’s speech last night to the grieving citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, was not like his speeches in Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; or Fort Hood, Texas — scenes of previous mass killings during his first term as president – it went further, maybe even a lot further. And it had a different tone, more impatient, sadder, but also more full of resolve, and — more political.

We can’t tolerate this any more. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,”  he said and promised something he had not previously promised during his four years in the White House:

 ”In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

These sentences have resulted in the new hope that Obama, for the first time — finally, is ready to take on America’s culture of weapons and the country’s laws on weapons, or lack of laws. Can the tragedy in Newtown become the ”the tipping point?” We don’t know, but the pressures on the president to do something and fight for what he seems to believe in — to fight the “good fight” — even if that fight does not produce a victory against the gun lobby and its many supporters in Congress, have increased rapidly and markedly since Newtown.

What he can propose is well illustrated on the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog.” But the fight won’t be easy, regardless of strategy and proposals. There are no simple solutions, because the fight concerns a key issue for the American society. It’s about the “god Gun,”  as the historian Garry Wills writes on the New York Review of Books’ blog, which:

  • Has the power to destroy the reasoning process.
  • Has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine.
  • Has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter.

Enough, Mr. President!

Yes, our hearts are broken, as President Obama said the other day about the senseless mass murder of 28 people in Newtown, Connecticut.

The sentiments of his emotional statement were surely shared by many, many, across the nation. But, for many, including me, his words were not enough. We wanted to hear something more  — indignation, anger, impatience, in addition to the sorrow, over what America’s gun culture is doing to this country, that too many people have died for no reason at all, and that something must be done about it – finally, now!

But we did not hear this from the President, who gave no indication that he is now prepared to break his four-year-long silence on guns and gun control — during his entire first term. His one sentence that “we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” was far too general and vague for many, like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, maybe the nation’s leading gun control proponent:

“We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership. Not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.”

David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor:

“Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown “as a parent,” and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises—a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.“

In the days since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the voices of “enough” are heard more and more. Mass shootings and mass killings are now part of everyday life in America. The magazine Mother Jones reports that there have been 62 such mass murders in the last 30 years. We know them: Columbine, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, Blacksburg, and now Newtown. This year, alone, almost one hundred people have died in this madness.

Still, little has happened. Not even the near death of Congress woman Gabby Giffords resulted in any political action. On the contrary, it easier than ever to buy a gun, including assault weapons, as the ban between 1994 and 2004 on those weapons was lifted in 2004. And you can now carry concealed weapons in schools and bars, on trains and in the National Parks.

Could the 28 deaths in Newtown, Connecticut be a tipping point? It remains to be seen, if Sandy Hook can “break the usual cycle of universal shock fading into political reality,” reported  the AP.

Sadly, more and more people see the battle for increased gun control as unwinnable. The gun lobby seems just too strong, and the American people do not seem support more gun control. According to Gallup, fewer Americans now favor stricter gun laws, from 78 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2010.

Still, the deaths at Sandy Hook of 20 school children between six and seven years old seem to have struck a chord among Americans. And how could it not? So if not now, when? Enough.

Shocked Republicans face a new political reality

The air during the walks in the woods outside Washington, DC a few days after Barack Obama’s convincing victory is somehow easier to breathe under the clear, blue November sky.  It’s been a long, an awfully long, campaign, emotionally draining. Most are just happy that it’s over, and at least 61 million voters are happy about the outcome.

The American voters chose the man they trusted to continue to lead them in these difficult economic times, while Mitt Romney, his challenger, beckoned to an old America as he asked the voters to trust a man they really did not know, a man who would not release his tax returns, who never explained why he invested money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands or in Switzerland, who denied his own moderate political record as a governor of Massachusetts, supportive of a woman’s right to choose, implementer of universal healthcare in his home state.

The bruising Republican primary campaign forced him steadily further to the right, and by the time he won and became the party’s presidential nominee, it was too late change in a credible way. 

As conservative columnist Kathleen Parker writes in the Washington Post today:

“The truth is, Romney was better than the GOP deserved. Party nitwits undermined him, and the self-righteous tried to bring him down. The nitwits are well-enough known at this point — those farthest-right social conservatives who couldn’t find it in their hearts to keep their traps shut. No abortion for rape or incest? Sit down. Legitimate rape? Put on your clown suit and go play in the street.  Equally damaging were the primary leeches, who embarrassed the party and wouldn’t leave the stage. Nine-nine-nine, we’re talking about you, Herman Cain. And Gov. Oops?  You, too. And then there were Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, who never had a real shot at the nomination and certainly could never win a national election, yet they refused to surrender to the certain nominee.”

The name of Newt Gingrich should be added to these names.   

The result was that the “Etch-a-Sketch” in the last month of the election campaign, when “severely conservative” Romney suddenly turned moderate, never worked. By then, the Obama campaign had already defined him for the voters and they did not trust him, he did not care about the ordinary voter.

The end result was an Obama victory by 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206 – way more than the necessary 270 to win.  Of the nine battleground states, Obama only lost North Carolina. That means that Obama captured 61,7 million votes compared to Romney’s 58,5 million, or 50,6 percent compared to 47,9 percent.

The Romney campaign, which up to the last moments really believed they would win, never knew what hit them according to John Dickerson in a fascinating piece in Slate Magazine.

“Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. Even on the morning of the election, Romney’s senior advisers weren’t close to hedging. They said he was going to win decisively…How did the Romney team get it so wrong? According to those involved, it was a mix of believing anecdotes about party enthusiasm and an underestimation of their opponents’ talents.”

Instead, Barack Obama won among Blacks (93 percent), Hispanics (71 percent), and Asians (73 percent), among women (53 percent) and among working women with children under 18 (62 percent), among gays and lesbians (76 percent), among those between 18 and 29 (60 percent) and those between 30 and 44 (52 percent), among those in big cities (69 percent) and those in cities up to 500 000 people (58 percent), among Jewish voters (69 percent) and Catholics (52 percent,)  among those without a high school diploma (64 percent) and among those with a post-graduate degree (62 percent,)  and among those earning less than 50,000 dollars (56 percent).

Romney won among men (52 percent), among those above 45 years of age, among white voters (59 percent) among those with incomes above 50,000 dollars per year, among Independents (50 percent), and among those in the suburbs (50 percent), the small towns (56 percent) and in rural America  (61 percent). And he won the protestant votes, including the white born-again or evangelical Christians (78 percent).

His support was white, old, and rural, when all demographic trends point to a younger, multi-ethnic, and more urban America.  That’s a losing proposition. It’s the old America vs. the new America, and the Republicans, in a state of shock, have suddenly come face to face with this political reality. A long and fierce internal debate is expected whose outcome is far from certain. 

That debate is taking place as America faces a fiscal cliff by year’s end, when almost one trillion dollars in automatic budget cuts will be implemented at the same time as taxes are raised for everyone, if a new budget deal is not struck before that.  The cliff is of Congress’s own making when it failed last year to reach a budget deal.  The question is: are the players more ready now? We will soon know.