THE SCANDINAVIAN MODEL, as it is known, is the metric by which the American left measures its own inferiority, juxtaposed against nationalist claims of leading in perpetuity the free world. Hence, the deep crisis and cracks in the American psyche — the greatest nation in the world isn’t so great after all.
What to do? A) Question the metrics of greatness — perhaps we are actually greater than we think we are, and those other countries with their cradle-to-grave welfare benefits are suckers; B) Try to apply the instruments of greatness at home in all 50 American states. Let’s Scandinavianize Vermont. And Massachusetts. And, much later, Texas.
Some American Republicans are A people. Some American Democrats are B.
B also stands for Bernie Sanders.
Having lived in and adjacent to the Scandinavian Model for the past 15 years, I now find the simplicity of the American fondness for its supposed supremacy to be comforting, like a memory of a childhood day spent playing with the ocean beach sands. It was very likely the idea that the Scandinavians knew how to do it better that prompted me to come to Denmark and Finland to study. Yet now, when I think of Denmark, from my time spent there, I think of its shameless decadence first, not its self-professed levels of contentedness, or thriving public sector. If Bernie Sanders dreams of Danish welfare benefits, my Danish dreams were far more erotic in nature, for Copenhagen is a city that outdoes Paris when it comes to lust and longing.
In Copenhagen, I have seen too many men try to pick up women on the train with poetic one-liners. “I like your look, you are very sexy, yes?” In Copenhagen, I indulged in decriminalized street drugs. In Copenhagen, I spent nearly every night of that autumn as a study abroad student inebriated. Later, as an adult man with a family returned on a business trip, I ventured forth into a Friday night to witness a war zone of debauchery. Nothing had changed. I recalled how helpful civilians would drag the passed out young men and women of the greater Copenhagen metro area to the front of the train station to sleep. One literally walked among piles of young women sleeping off terrible hangovers. Once, I even encountered a Danish girl lying in the gutter clawing among the trash, drunk. I helped her out to safety.
And that is the key word that came with that shameless Danish decadence. Safety. Just as I felt safe nodding off on a train after too many beers so many years ago, only to be woken by a polite police officer — a woman, who was actually concerned for my safety — young Danes felt comfortable partying in the city to the point that they could no longer move themselves, certain that a well-meaning Samaritan would drag them closer to home. Youth was allowed to roar in such a way in Denmark because the people felt comfortable among one another, trusted each other. This was not Penn Station in New York City, where you wander past armed guards and try not to look them in the eye. That deadened anonymity, that uncomfortable relationship with a militarized authority, just didn’t exist in Denmark. In America, we had different instincts. That is why Denmark still seems like such a dream.