A rousing speech on the dangers of Swedish nationalism is a bit of a turn-off. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

2am in a gay bar in Stockholm is the best time to discuss the NHS

If you’re a Scene Lesbian, whenever you’re abroad, you feel obligated to have a quick look at what gays do for fun wherever you are.

There’s nothing sexier than socialised health care. Free education comes close but state-funded hospitals are the welfare state’s lacy knickers. Possibly. OK, maybe not. But it’s around 2am and I’m in a gay bar in Stockholm, discussing the NHS with a Norwegian woman. Ms Oslo is in her mid-forties; with her cropped blonde hair and polo shirt, she’s the sort of 1990s tennis lesbian I hardly ever get a chance to speak to in London, mostly because we inhabit different parts of the Scene.

According to my slapdash pre-Stockholm-trip googling, Torget is Stockholm’s version of somewhere like GAY in London: well established, cheesy and reasonably friendly. I’m the youngest person in it.

“So, how long have you been in Sweden?” I ask Ms Oslo, hoping to steer the conversation towards something more discussable over thumping Europop.

“Seven years now,” she says.

“Wow. So I’m guessing you like it here.” (Keep it boring.)

“It’s nice,” she begins. “I can’t stand the Swedes, though. Bunch of Nazis.”

I feel a Holocaust conversation brewing.

“Really?”

Why am I encouraging her?

In some of the best English I’ve ever heard, Ms Oslo proceeds drunkenly to outline the history of the Swedish far right – from Nazi collaboration to the various modern-day nationalist movements.

Ten minutes later, to the music of “Dancing Queen” (really), I’m trying to examine the chain of events that led to a Norwegian woman and me shouting about fascism in a Swedish gay bar.

If you’re a Scene Lesbian (even a reluctant one like me), whenever you’re abroad, you feel obligated to have a quick look at what gays do for fun wherever you are. There’s always a flicker of hope that you are about to strike glittering gay gold.

I was optimistic about Sweden. I imagined a rainbow-kissed utopia of tall, liberal Norse women: possibly the kind of thing Hitler would have had in mind, if he were a left-wing lesbian. Perhaps I was hoping for an army of gay Saga Noréns (the blunt bombshell from The Bridge). I’d let them take me hiking in pine forests. We’d drink from Thermoses together.

As it goes, I can’t see myself having a laugh in the wilderness with Ms Oslo. All this Nazi chat has me edging towards the toilets, where I’ll need to devise an escape plan, possibly by way of the window like in films. She’s affable, as is the Stockholm gay scene as far as I can see. But I’ve always wanted to steal into the night. And, with Ms Oslo still delivering a rousing speech on the dangers of Swedish nationalism, that’s exactly what I do.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

Donald Trump brings home his dark vision of America at the Republican convention

The Presidential nominee pledged: "Safety must be restored."

Donald Trump brought home the Republican convention Thursday night with a dark vision of contemporary America – a darkness he claimed only his leadership could lift. It was a lengthy, tightly-scripted speech framed around polarities – insiders and outsiders, criminals and victims, the United States and the rest of the world – and infused with righteous anger. And yet against the darkness, he offered not lightness but “greatness” – a bombastic, personalistic vision of how through sheer force of will he could right the American ship before it plunged irretrievably into the depths. “I alone can solve,” he famously tweeted earlier in the campaign. This was the 80-minute version.

Any presidential challenger, of course, has to lay out a set of problems they believe need fixing and a case for why their leadership might make a difference. It was the breathtaking scale and intensity of Trump’s diagnosis, and the lack of optimistic alternative to counterbalance it, that was notable compared to other acceptance speeches. He portrayed the United States as a country riddled with crime and corruption, a “rigged system” in which politicians like Hillary Clinton can evade justice, while police officers trying to protect its citizens become targets; a fearful country, its economy sluggish, its infrastructure crumbling, its security an illusion, and its international stature in freefall

For a candidate who has mocked the soaring rhetoric of President Obama (the “hopey-changey stuff,” as Sarah Palin once called it), it was perhaps not surprising that Trump’s speech would be short on uplift. It was at least more disciplined than his other campaign speeches, if in keeping with their tone and content – the much-maligned teleprompter rolling a script to which he largely stuck. (“He sounds presidential,” a lady behind me remarked, though his press conference Friday morning marked a reversion to free-wheeling form).

It was short on substance too, though acceptance speeches aren’t designed to be policy laundry lists like a State of the Union. Still, there were few specifics, beyond a pledge to revise tax laws which inhibit religious groups from political advocacy, and a newfound concern with student loans. It was daughter Ivanka’s speech that had the greater substantive heft, promising her father would push for new labour laws to help working mothers, and for affordable childcare in the US. Neither are traditional Republican positions, but the crowd seemed on board for anything Trump might offer.

He even had them cheering for LGBTQ rights, after recalling the tragedy in Florida last month, and the need to protect gay Americans from a “hateful foreign ideology” in radical Islam. “It is so nice as a Republican to hear you cheering for what I just said,” he commended the delegates in an unscripted moment. But whether they had really embraced this unexpected message – or if it was the anti-terror chaser that really got them on their feet – remains to be seen. In either case, it was a rare grace note in an otherwise bruising speech.

Presenting himself repeatedly as the candidate of “law and order,” Trump evoked Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. At a time when American cities were erupting in race riots and protests over the Vietnam War, Nixon had pitched himself as the face of stability and security. Likewise Trump has reacted to the simmering racial tensions and terrorist attacks this summer with a hard-line stance on “lawlessness.” “Safety must be restored,” Trump said, in one of the eerier lines he delivered. Yet in his convention speech, Nixon had balanced his tough talk with a positive message – speaking of love, courage, and lighting a “lamp of hope” in partnership with the American people. 

Trump channeled another president in his speech, too, when he promised to give voice to “the forgotten men and women of our country” – drawing on the language of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt had promised to aid “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” during the 1932 campaign. But Roosevelt’s solution to the forgotten man’s distress was economic internationalism – tearing down tariff walls and trading freely with the world – which the Republican Party then opposed. Trump’s solution is the protectionist policies Roosevelt had railed against.

Trump’s economic and security philosophy is encapsulated in another, more notorious phrase associated with that era: “America First.” A rallying cry for isolationists seeking to avoid US entanglement in World War II, it acquired an anti-Semitic taint. But Trump has employed it nonetheless, capturing as it does his core argument that America must do more to protect its own citizens against threats from within and without – from illegal immigrants, from radicalized Islamic terrorists, from the downsides of free international trade. Little wonder that former George W.

Bush staffer Nicolle Wallace announced that the Republican party she knew “died in this room tonight.” In embracing elements of isolationism, protectionism, and nativism, however, it is perhaps truer to say that Trump’s Republican party reverted to an earlier form.

Often disconcerting, at times mesmerizing, the question remains how effective this speech will be. The delegates responded enthusiastically to Trump’s fierce rhetoric, but many prominent Republicans had stayed away from the convention altogether. Combined with Senator Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement, Trump goes into the general election campaign without a fully united party behind him. For both partisans and the public, Trump’s speech offered a cast of villains to rally against, but no positive, unifying vision to rally behind – beyond the much-touted yet elusive “greatness,” of course. In a typical election year, that would seem a critical flaw in a campaign – but Trump loves to confound the naysayers. As his convention speech showed, he thinks the formula that got him this far - showcasing his fame and fanning Americans’ fears – can land him in the White House.