If Bernie Sanders is going to say that the United States should look more like Scandinavia, he must first present an idea of what the Scandinavian model actually is. What is called “the” Scandinavian model is really three or four models—political, geographic, demographic and economic—all happening at once. But, which model does Sanders mean?
Politically, Denmark, Norway and Sweden—the three core Scandinavian countries—are all parliamentary constitutional monarchies while the United States is best thought of as a federation of fifty self-governing states.
Geographically, Scandinavia is fragmented by mountains and fjords and surrounded on three sides by water. It is geography that has historically helped keep Scandinavia from becoming a no-man’s-land like Poland between Germany and Russia or Alsace-Lorraine between Germany and France.
Demographically, the largest ethnic group in the United States is non-Hispanic whites, about sixty-three percent of the population; while the Swedish government does not collect information on ethnicity, it is estimated that the country is roughly eighty percent homogeneous, the least homogeneous of any Scandinavian country. Norway is eighty-six percent homogenous. Denmark is eighty-nine. Across Scandinavia, linguistic homogeneity is even higher.
Does Bernie Sanders really want to make the United States look more Scandinavian? It of course depends on one's definition, but at the end of the day it does not matter what you or I or anyone else wants the United States to look like. There are simply too many facets to the Scandinavian model—however one defines it—for it be transplanted into a nation of over three hundred million.
Politically, geographically and demographically, the Scandinavian model is far too complex to define, let alone recreate. But thank goodness there is more to the model than just politics, geography and demography. Indeed, economically, the Scandinavian model may actually be getting some traction in the United States, albeit with the help of an unlikely candidate.
Now comes the last facet of the Scandinavian model, why I think it will never work as a whole, but may very likely come to work in pieces.
Denmark, Norway and Sweden—and for that matter, Finland—all have multiparty legislatures. All have a major center-left or liberal party, a major center-right or conservative party, and many third parties. In the United States, the largest third party, the Libertarian Party, supports open borders, a scaled-back welfare system and social liberalism. Third parties in Scandinavian countries—the True Finns, the Swedish Democrats, the Progress Party of Norway and the Danish People’s Party—do not.
In Scandinavia, third parties seek to restrict immigration, strengthen their welfare systems and infrastructure and, by and large, are proponents of social conservatism. Similar third parties can been found in the Netherlands, though without the social conservatism. One such Dutch third-party figure, Pim Fortuyn, was pro-choice, pro-LGBT, pro-drug, pro-euthanasia, anti-monarchist and openly gay. Other than that, Fortuyn was very Scandinavian.
Of course, Bernie Sanders doesn’t want the United States to be a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, nor does he want to bring Scandinavian levels of homogeneity to the United States, nor, I think, has it even occurred to him that geography has blessed his native New England as it has blessed Scandinavia.
How Scandinavian can Sanders actually be? In my opinion, not very.
As Judd Legum of ThinkProgress wrote of one Republican presidential candidate, “[his] views are significantly more progressive... than others in the [Republican] field.” He is against cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. He supports universal healthcare, though not the Affordable Care Act. He wants to build an infrastructure in the United States on par with those of Europe and Japan; and yes, he wants to restrict immigration. The candidate: Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders is not a Scandinavian. He’s just a socialist. Donald Trump is not only a Scandinavian; he is a third-party Scandinavian.