Sweden Takes a Chance on New Populist Wave

American progressives are often beside themselves when extolling the apparent and deceptive wonders of the Scandinavian model.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) doesn’t stop yapping about Denmark. Indeed, whenever “democratic socialists” are asked to enumerate a country in which their creed has actually worked and not ended in the repression and slaughter of countless people, or the immiseration of many more, they always point to one of the Scandinavian countries.

Trouble is, those countries are certainly not socialist.

Swedish Social Democrats Are In Trouble
Sweden is often the first pick. And for good reason. The consensual, unashamedly egalitarian high-tax, high-spend Nordic model has been the darling of Western progressives for decades. Even The Economist once said the Nordic model was the future.

The Swedes are cosseted from cradle to grave. They’re some of the happiest people on earth. And some of the most trusting. The Swedish economy is booming. Strong collaboration-minded unions ensure wages are high. Those willingly steep taxes fund “free” healthcare and “free” college. Lose your job in Sweden, and the government will pay 80 percent of your previous salary for the first 200 days of your unemployment. Sweden, in the progressive mind at least, works.

Indeed, the Social Democrat party’s history would make an American Democrat wail in ecstatic and unearthly tones. The ruling Social Democrats governed for over 60 years of the last century. In a multiparty system, they averaged 45 per cent of the vote. Sweden, until recently, was effectively a one-party state.

But the Social Democrats, currently running a minority hodgepodge government, are not inoculated from the fate befalling their European center-left counterparts. They’re padding toward their worst result in a century.

If the polls are correct, the Social Democrats will arrive at the September 9 election with just 22 percent of the vote. Strikingly, some polls expect the populist Sweden Democrats, long the blackest of Swedish sheep, to finish with around 20 percent, some even point to a first-place finish and a majority of seats.

Indeed, a YouGov poll gave them a lead among every age group. The black sheep may end up the shepherd.

Immigration Yet Again
What has happened? Sweden is the latest in the now familiar theater of angry voters abandoning their center-left birth rites in favor of populists whose immigration ear isn’t made from tin.

The same issue that helped put Donald Trump into the White House, pulled Great Britain out of the European Union, planted populist governments in places like Austria, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, and threatens to depose Angela Merkel, plays out predictably in Sweden.

Like the rest of Europe, voters tired of the center-left ignoring their reasonable pleas for stricter immigration controls have abandoned once impregnable parties.

In 2014, then Prime Minister Reinfeldt implored Swedes to “open their hearts” to asylum seekers moving northward as a migrant crisis greyed the temples of European Union leaders. A record 165,000 turned up to swell the population of under 10 million over the next 12 months—the most per head in the entire world.

Although numbers have dropped by four-fifths, the impetus helped elevate the Sweden Democrats from lepers to potential kingmakers.

Typical rhetoric focuses on tightening Swedish borders, and concerns itself with Muslim immigration. The Nordic model, largely, stays intact.

“Why should we change into a Middle Eastern country? Why should we care about Islam? Sweden is not an Islamic country. Why should we be influenced by one of the worst ideologies in the world? I don’t understand it,” said Richard Jomshof, a Sweden Democrat lawmaker, when talking to NBC News recently.

Problems “They Never Thought Possible”—Like Hand Grenades
It’s a sentiment which more Swedes are finding themselves in communion. Indeed, a quarter of the liberal bastion’s voters are plotting to vote for such Trumpian notions.

Alas, President Trump was widely mocked when he said early last year that “last night in Sweden” something presumably terrible had happened.

“They took in large numbers, and they’re having problems like they never thought possible,” Trump told a Florida rally.

The reaction was boiler-plated. Of course, the tattlers of Twitter took Trump’s truculence to task.

“What has he been smoking?” asked Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister.

Meanwhile, police have been busy mopping up no-go zones predominated by immigrants and mottled by criminal gangs. Crime figures, though said to be massaged by fretful authorities, show a surge in violence—the kind people care about.

One can even purchase hand grenades—yes, hand grenades—on the Swedish black market for $130. The flesh-mangling power of which Swedish police recently described as a “trend.”

Cool With Same-Sex Marriage, Tough on Crime
It is this reality which motors Swedes toward the apparently “far-right” clutch of Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats.

The 39-year-old stirs a strange brew. Or not. Most people outside of political bubbles don’t adhere strictly to often useless labels of “conservative” or “liberal.

He’s cool with same-sex marriage, but tough on crime. Akesson wants to close the borders, but he’s fine with higher state pensions. He also wants the Swedes to decide whether or not to follow Britain out of the EU.

Indeed, his party even wants to triple the foreign aid budget to help migrants in their own countries—long a progressive line.

Akesson’s mix of left and right mirrors that of successful populists in Austria, Italy, and elsewhere. As blue-collar voters desert their old charges, the populist right mops them up with conservative social policies, a tough line on immigration, and temperance toward the brutalising effects of unfettered and inconsiderate globalisation.

Wilting parties of the center-left and right could stem tomorrow the populist wave engulfing them. But they’re still busy in their frothing feel-good denunciations of the defectors.

If liberal Sweden falls to the populists, will America’s Democrats or their progressive brethren elsewhere take stock? I think we know the answer.

Photo Credit: Magnus Persson/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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