World

Opinion: Swedish political deadlock crosses Atlantic to US

I was in Sweden for the campaign and election on September 9th. I also ran as a progressive Democratic in Oregon's Second Congressional District in the May 2018 Primary in the US. So, no surprise, I pay close attention. I'll say it again. We just had the same election. Here's how:

Immigration: Both elections focused on immigration. Some candidates described immigrants as a liability. The media did little to challenge that assumption. Yet the numbers and facts are clear. Given the slightest opportunity, the overwhelming majority of immigrants work hard, successfully integrate into society, and pay more taxes every year. They are a long-term asset often because the children of immigrants significantly out-perform their peers. Immigrants made America great in the first place and will be of great value to Sweden. We both forgot those lessons.

Climate: This past summer Sweden burned while enduring weeks of the sort of heat usually found in Spain. And the hurricanes that smashed into the United States were freakishly powerful, wet, and catastrophic. Yet somehow, we barely discussed the human and economic impact of climate change. Apparently, the future of the planet didn't matter enough. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Wealth: Both Sweden and United States are seeing a growing gap between the very rich and everybody else. If left unattended, these gaps are poisonous. They cause ugly results when a society moves unpredictably and dangerously to either the left or the right. (Think of Stalin.) We ignored that question too.

The Alt Right: Sweden did not really confront the fact that Sweden's (and Europe's) nationalists are receiving support and guidance from many American nationalist alt-right organizations and organizers. In fact, Steve Bannon, after helping install Trump in the White House, is now working hard to influence elections in Sweden and Europe. This is pretty much what the US accused Putin's buddies of doing in 2016. But we didn't talk about it very much, either here or there.

The Progressive Left: In the United States, progressives have been frozen out of any real role in the Democratic Party for decades. So, it was sad for me (as an outsider) to see Sweden's Left Party frozen out in the same way Bernie Sanders' supporters were – and still are. Why would the political centre in either country risk handing power to the nationalists on the right, when simply linking arms with the young, energetic, and growing left would prevent it? The US made that mistake in 2016 and got Trump. I hope Sweden avoids that in 2018.

Distorted Self-image: I was astonished to hear Sweden discussed as if it was on the brink of collapse or anarchy. (Please take my word for this: You're doing OK. Your economy is working. Your people have health care. And your students can get an excellent university education without crippling, lifelong debt.) Contrast that with United States. According to much of our media, we are the greatest nation on earth. However, it is impossible to reconcile that perception with increasing thousands of homeless camping in American cities, the number of US children in deep poverty, or people dying because 28 million of us still can't afford a doctor. Neither Sweden nor the United States seem to have an accurate self-image. That's a bad foundation upon which to cast a vote.

Do the similarities between our elections have a similar end result? Yes. Deadlock.

It is almost two months since Sweden's election and still there is no government. Will there be another election? I don't know, and I won't guess. But Sweden seems truly stuck for the moment.

And now, the US is just as deadlocked. Yes, the Democrats won an extremely thin majority in the House of Representatives. But we lost ground in the Senate. At best, we can slow or postpone the worst of Trump's plans. But we will still be unable to address the pressing questions of poverty, health care, carbon, and conflict that will determine our own future. And predictably, the Trump administration will now blame the results of their own profound incompetence on the Democrats. Yesterday's Pyrrhic victory may cost the Democrats dearly in 2020.

So, sadly, I think Sweden and the US have ended up in the same place. Deadlocked. But Sweden gets to vote again if it needs to. We're stuck for another two years – if we're lucky.

Originally a merchant ship officer, Eric Burnette took an early retirement as Executive Director of the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots to run for the US House of Representatives as a Democrat in the May 2018 primary. His Swedish is competent but no longer fluent.

Eric Burnette at the site where a Russian submarine ran aground outside Karlskrona, Sweden, in 1981. Photo: Private