The Ants and Elephants of Swedish Politics

Letter From Stockholm

In February, I returned to Sweden after a 15-year absence, and discovered a very different land. In 1976, Americans were viewed with suspicion. We carried the immediate legacy of the Vietnam imbroglio and a vague reputation as "protofascists." These were the heady early days of Prime Minister Olaf Palme. The Swedes were, as always, polite, but they were more than a little haughty as citizens of a ruggedly independent nation, in solidarity with international socialism and the Third World. In 1992, an American strides the streets of Stockholm as a kind of king, or conqueror. With communism dead, and the Swedish economy in a swoon, capitalism is triumphant, and America looms as the center of the world, the protector of the New World Order. Swedish youth in double-breasted suits crowd around, wanting to hear about the wonders of American commercial television or the latest conservative gossip from Washington. Even the Social Democrats are humble and self-deprecating, ever willing to shine an American's ideological shoes. Only in Stockholm could I appreciate the utter mystification of James Baker and George Bush (the Swedish tabloids label them "the world's most powerful men"), who must experience in spades the same fawning adulation whenever they step beyond the American border. With the world as our oyster, they have to ask, how can the voters possibly respond to the Sirens' song of "America First"?


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