Sweden is a pretty well-regarded country on the whole. Even the Norwegians and Finns have forgiven her for lording it over them at one time. Among British social democrats she used to be regarded as a shining city on the hill: the ‘Swedish model’ meant open democracy, industrial cooperation, generous welfare, class, racial and gender equality, internationalism and the rest. Swedes bathed in this reputation. ‘Utopia’ is too strong a word for it, and there was plenty of internal criticism: from leftists wanting the country to be more utopian and from rightists objecting to the high taxation all this required. But in general the Swedes have felt pretty good about themselves. They are the living example that a society doesn’t need to be either red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist or totally controlled by the state in order to prosper. There is a middle way.
Which leaves the red-in-tooth-and-claw guys somewhat at a loss. How can Sweden possibly be so happy and prosperous with virtually no religion, no handguns and very few prisons? The very thought is unsettling. As a result, right-wing Americans have been rubbishing Sweden for years. In February 2017, President Trump launched a notorious rant after seeing a Fox News report of a riot involving immigrants in Malmö: ‘Sweden! Who would believe this! Sweden!’ Those of us living there didn’t believe it, of course – because it wasn’t true. But it’s what the Right wants to hear. Swedish contentment is just a myth. Underneath the surface of clean streets, happy children, healthy adults and general politeness must lie something dark and threatening (and they don’t just mean the high price of beer).