Will a Sanders-like agenda produce eventual Democratic success at the polls? Maybe so or maybe not. Either way, it could lead to the achievement of Senator Sanders’ cherished goal of an American Sweden.
While Senator Bernie Sanders may never be president, his oft-stated goal may one day be realized. This is especially so, if his newly adopted party continues to move steadily leftward. But it likely will take some time. The election of a Sanders-like candidate and a Democratic sweep of Congress in 2020 won’t do it. But achieving his dream could well be hastened.
Actually, it could also be hastened by a Democratic defeat in 2020, if only because such a defeat would only add to the party’s frustration and push it even further to the left.
Will a Sanders-like agenda produce eventual Democratic success at the polls? Maybe so or maybe not. Either way, it could lead to the achievement of Senator Sanders’ cherished goal.
So, just what is that goal, and just how might it be realized? His 1980s honeymoon in a near-to-its-demise Soviet Union aside, Senator Sanders assures us that he doesn’t envision a totalitarian future for the United States. Instead, he would settle for turning this country into another Sweden.
Never mind that Sweden is still a capitalist country, not to mention a country that is currently trying to trim its expansive welfare state. Let’s simply take the self-proclaimed socialist senator at his word: He wants America to be another Sweden, maybe not the Sweden of today, but perhaps the Sweden of his dreams. How do we get there? Maybe the answer lies in the continuing evolution of a Democratic party that he has only recently joined, combined with that party’s continuing domination of public education from pre-school through college.
If there is eventual electoral success across the board for a Sanders-like agenda, a rueful prediction by G.K. Chesterton might yet be proven right. No fan of either big government or big business, Chesterton believed that most people were of a similar mind. Therefore, he thought that socialism would never be the “world’s desire,” but he did worry that someday it might come to be regarded as the “world’s deliverance.”
Of course, such an agenda would never be accepted by everyone, whether as desire or deliverance. A significant minority. Maybe even a sectional minority, would still oppose it. For example, the states of the American heartland might stand in opposition. Or perhaps the states of the American southeast. Here irony intrudes. Having once provoked secession to preserve chattel slavery, they might act in a similar manner to avoid a different kind of servitude. In any case, that’s how we might get to become another Sweden or perhaps more than one other Sweden.
In recent years the United States has been heading toward division for a number of reasons. Worse than that, our union may well be lurching toward dis-union. In many respects the country is more divided—and in more ways—than was the case on the eve of the Civil War of 1861-1865.
In the years between Jackson’s presidency and 1861 the Democratic Party was experiencing a different sort of transformation, as it began moving away from both of its founders, Jefferson and Jackson. Slavery, the lone issue of great division, went from being Jefferson’s “necessary evil” (that would one day be eliminated) to becoming John C. Calhoun’s “positive good” (that must be preserved and expanded). To make matters worse, Calhoun and other secessionist-minded Democratic politicians rejected Jackson’s overriding commitment to the American union “most dear.”
In the 1850s the Republican party was born out of a commitment to contain slavery, thereby putting it on the road to what Lincoln called its “ultimate extinction.” Gone was Lincoln’s Whig party with its southern (“cotton”) and northern (“conscience”) wings. Today neither of our two major parties has contentious wings. Instead, each party is now increasingly ideological, as well as more and more ideologically pure. Conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans are virtually non-existent.
Not all that long ago the Democratic party held annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. Today many Democrats regard Jefferson and Jackson as at best embarrassments and at worst criminals.
The current Democratic party is not just far removed from Jefferson and Jackson on policy issues, but it is also far removed from Hubert Humphrey and another Jackson, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington. For that matter, the heart of the Democratic party of 2019 is well to the left of Bill Clinton and noticeably to the left of Barack Obama.
Of course, the Republican party has evolved as well. Under President Trump the party has certainly moved away from Bushes 41 and 43, not to mention Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. But in many respects, respects that have little to do with a certain president’s personality and much to do with policy, the party of Mr. Trump has harkened back to the policies and ideas of such Republican stalwarts as Reagan, Goldwater, Taft, Coolidge, and even Theodore Roosevelt.
The result is division, discord, and perhaps dis-union. If the last is the case, will our dis-uniting be peaceful or otherwise? Either way, the final result might well be to let one or many Swedens bloom in the former United States.
Such might have started to be the case in 1861. A radicalized anti-Jefferson and anti-Jackson Democratic party inadvertently called into being a Republican party that was committed to blocking the expansion of slavery, as well as to upending the infamous Dred Scott decision that declared American blacks to be non-citizens and threatened to re-nationalize slavery. The election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, led to the secession of seven states and the creation of the Confederacy.
President Lincoln could have chosen to accept this new reality. He could have simply let the south go and let the Confederacy live. Such (non) action would have been a very Sweden-like thing to (not) do. But Lincoln was no wannabe Swede, so he took a less peaceful course.
Had Lincoln not chosen to force the seceded states to stay in the union, what was left of the United States might have gradually become a kind of Sweden or perhaps multiple Swedens. After all, once one secession had proved to be successful, why not more than one?
But that’s not what happened, then or now. And if an iron-willed German Chancellor’s teeth-gritting utterance of the late 19th century holds for the 21st century, it won’t happen any time soon. Recall Otto von Bismarck’s famous line that “God takes care of drunks, little children, and the United States of America.” That would be a united United States of America.
And if it doesn’t? Just as the slave issue radicalized the Democratic party of the mid-19th century, so the abortion issue radicalizes the modern Democratic party. Today abortion is no longer Bill Clinton’s “necessary evil” that should be made “safe, legal and rare.” Now it is a “positive good” for Senator Sanders and company—and one that, like slavery, must be protected by the federal government and buttressed by another Supreme Court decision of questionable constitutionality (Roe v Wade).
Unlike slavery, abortion in America is not confined to a handful of contiguous states, so this issue alone is not likely to provoke dis-union. But another ongoing progressive commitment might. Unlike the founders, progressives seek to concentrate power and decision-making in the nation’s capital. The founders feared that such a concentration of power was a recipe for dis-union, especially in a country this large and diverse.
True, Hamilton and Madison desired an “energetic” federal government, but they envisioned that such a government would be limited in its reach and tasks. Progressives desire energetic government without limits. An unintended consequence of the realization of that desire might well be what the founders feared, namely dis-union.
Then there is the matter of immigration policy. Will a Democratic open-borders approach eventually transform the demography of the American southwest to the point that there will be a movement to secede from the United States? Or will there be a counter-movement on the part of the rest of the country to secede from a demographically transformed American southwest?
And what about so-called “sanctuary cities?” Are they relatively harmless exercises in virtue-signaling? Or are they a hint of secessionist-minded efforts to come?
With such questions in mind, let’s return to the Bernie Sanders desire to remake the United States into an American Sweden. Maybe his party is moving toward that goal in a very roundabout way. A large, powerful country like the United States could never be a Sweden. More than that, it should never be a Sweden. But a smaller country here in North America could be. For that matter, a number of smaller countries carved out of the erstwhile United States might well wind up becoming—and behaving like—a number of little Swedens. That assumes, of course, that other more powerful countries will be content to leave them alone.
The USA might have started down that very path in 1861. Thanks to Lincoln, it did not. He led a Republican party that was first bent on containing slavery before finally moving to end it. By that war’s end—and the end of his own life—Lincoln had left in place a barely united country, but one country nonetheless. That country would later prove to be large enough and powerful enough to assure an allied victory in World War II, before containing the Soviet Union and winning the Cold War.
Had the United States ceased to be united in the mid-19th century, Senator Sanders and company might well find themselves very much at home right now. They could be holding power somewhere in one or another version of a North American Sweden. As something other than world revolutionaries, Mr. Sanders and his progressive allies might have already settled for running a small, smug, geopolitically insignificant country. Such a country might well be a country very much like Sweden. As such, it might be a New England Sweden, or an upper Midwest Sweden, or even a Minnesota Sweden. Each of these little Swedens would likely be quite content to go about its own business. Of course, each would also try to keep out of the way of potential troublemakers, save for exhibiting a Sweden-like penchant for lecturing the rest of the world on the merits—and goodness—of being a peaceful, harmless, if essentially inconsequential, social democracy.
Come to think of it, the real Sweden has been doing just that for quite some time now. Along the way, it also managed to duck such tasks as facing, oh say, Hitler and/or Stalin, while offering itself as an ideal model for critics of behemoth countries, countries like, oh say, a united United States.
Maybe that’s the ultimate goal of certain critics of a certain large and still united country that remains at large and astride the heart of North America. Maybe the final goal of the Democratic left is to reduce a no longer united United States to the more manageable size of, oh say, a handful of little Swedens. Maybe this will happen peacefully. Then again, maybe not.
Either way, it’s time for Bernie Sanders and company to fess up. Which is it? Have you been channeling your own inner John C. Calhoun? Or are you trying to create American Sweden(s) by calling into being future John C. Calhouns in opposition to you?
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The featured image is a photograph of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.