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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Opinion: Why the West should not follow Trump’s lead

Journalist Edinah Masanga writes about why she thinks Donald Trump's election makes it even more important for Sweden to be a champion for human rights.

Opinion: Why the West should not follow Trump's lead
US President-Elect Donald Trump. Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Yesterday morning I pulled back my curtains in opposite directions and from the window I could see a beautifully frozen lake and, lining its banks, a tapestry of naked trees whose leaves have succumbed to winter. It was freezing, of course, it's Sweden and that's business as usual but one thing was unmistakable: the place is a beauty.

Standing there in my window, I found myself thinking: I hope Sweden will never allow the dreadful thing happening in America on January 20th to happen here. I say dreadful because on that day, to the most powerful office on Earth will ascend a man who has openly boasted about his proclivities to sexual harassment, used racist rhetoric in his campaign, mocked physically challenged people and is so into himself that he had to defend the size of his hands because of a legend that a man's hands reflect the size of his manly gadget. So petty. And so unfit in my eyes.

Sensationalists like Donald Trump, and others like him, push an unrealistic notion of purity of races which I find to be a retrogressive kind of thinking which assumes that the world is moving backward into the past centuries rather than forward. In my opinion, it's impossible to maintain pure race societies (especially by settlement) in this day and age because of, among other things, the advent of technology and its continued advancement which has made many things possible, specifically, faster travel, easy communication and global interaction.

There were no netizens in the nearby 70s before Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in the 80s. It was not possible, for example, for someone in my village in a small area in Zimbabwe to be curious about, say, Sweden. It wasn't possible for someone in South Africa to hook up with another person in, say, America. The world was less connected, and less in touch, than it is today. So, this perception of intrusion because of mixed societies which people like Trump thrive on is intellectually bankrupt at best.

Statistics Sweden reported that Sweden's exports for 2016 amounted to 643.9 billion kronor of which 440.7 billion was to non-EU member states. Money which came in from trade with other countries. Of course, these statistics are numbers on paper but behind those numbers are people with blood in their veins who buy these things. I use Sweden as an example to show that countries, today, exist in an ecosystem world where life elsewhere is made possible by life elsewhere.

The world order that was created by the world superpowers created inter-dependability but also created instability in other parts of the world which resulted in increased numbers of people displaced by conflict; America and France led a campaign to dislodge Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and instead of bringing peace into that country they brought more chaos and opened Libyan borders for human trafficking into Europe; America embarked on an Iraqi war which created a breeding ground for the current Syrian crisis, to name a few.

So, while helpless refugees are an easy scapegoat for Trump and his brigade, their displacement is not of their own making, it is partly the consequences of the actions that countries like America take abroad. But of course, Trump won't say it, he has shown a proclivity to bully the weak, hasn't he?

As a feminist, Donald Trump's ascension to power is a double-edged sword because as much as it is an indictment of human dignity, it is also a slap in the face of all efforts made to advance equality between sexes because of his views on women's reproductive rights which he prefers to be restricted. His words also champion an outdated notion of female submission and male dominance.

Trump has openly shown himself to be against all the values that progressive democracies stand for. And it is in that vein that no other Western democracies should be tempted to follow suit. Because, Western democracies, with all their blemishes, have of course shone a beacon of liberty and freedom on the rest of the world.

Western democracies champion international human rights which, indeed, have helped create open societies and in fact, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights preambles with “the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as a “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. But then enter Trump…

Edinah Masanga is a Zimbabwean journalist living in Sweden. Follow her on Twitter or read her blog here.

Do you live in Sweden and want to make your voice heard? The Local publishes an opinion piece every Tuesday. E-mail [email protected] if you want yours considered for publication.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
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