The Fall of the Norwegian Trump

The last time Norway caught the attention of the international media, it was because Donald Trump remarked that more immigrants should come to the US from countries like Norway and less from “shithole” places. That prompted a string of jokes and jibes about Norway being the whitest country in the world, a perfect fantasy for a racist president.
How white Norway actually is depends on how you define it, but race, immigration, and “cultural preservation” have indeed stirred things up in this small country. Last month it culminated in the dismissal of Minister of Justice Sylvi Listhaug, who both supporters and detractors have compared to Trump.
But what actually happened? And how big of a blow was it to right-wing populism?

The Norwegian Right

Listhaug belongs to the Progress Party (FrP), a right-wing formation with a history of dog-whistling and blatant racism that has been in government since 2013 with the conservative-right party Høyre.
For a long time the Norwegian establishment refused to collaborate with the FrP, seeing it as too extreme. They changed their mind out of electoral expediency. Needing votes to secure a majority, right-wing parties invited the FrP into the mainstream tent and welcomed their collaboration. Since then, mainstream right parties have assured the public that the Norwegian populist right is not like it is in others parts of Europe — it’s milder and moderate, less historically noxious. While the Sweden Democrats have an outright Nazi past, the FrP’s roots are in an anti-tax liberal party.

Yet it might be fair to ask if we have not been fooling ourselves that we have the cleanest oil, the nicest fjords, and the sweetest far-right politicians on the continent. It’s been just thirty years since Carl I Hagen, the leader of the FrP at the time, forged a letter from a Muslim living in Norway and used it to claim that Islam was taking over the country. In the decades since, the FrP’s bread and butter has been pushing anti-immigrant policies and stoking anti-Muslim fear. The two leaders throughout those years, Hagen and Siv Jensen, have been known for their bigoted statements.

And then Sylvi Listhaug came along.

Listhaug became city commissioner (byråd) of welfare and social services in Oslo in 2006, where she pressed for more competition and more private-sector involvement in government. After working for a consulting firm, she then entered the right-wing coalition government in 2013 as minister of agriculture and food. While still largely unknown, she stirred controversy and fear among farmers for her statements in 2010 that Norway’s agricultural policy was a “communist system.”
Gradually she grew into the party’s political star and the country’s most vocal anti-immigrant politician. During the European “migrant crisis” in 2015, she raged against the “tyranny of goodness”: reasonable people who simply wanted stricter immigration policies were being labeled heartless and racist by “tyrants of good,” who used their self-appointed positions as moral commissioners to shut down debate about the consequences of immigration.
Then that December, Listhaug was appointed to a newly created cabinet position: minister of immigration and integration. It was both shocking and expected. Shocking because the conservative right, who claimed to be moderate, chose the most prominent anti-immigrant voice as minister of immigration. And expected because the FrP’s had netted 16 percent of the votes when they joined the coalition. They were strong enough to get what they wanted, and they wanted Listhaug in charge of immigration and a platform to spread the party’s views. Listhaug quickly made the best of it. Shortly after she stepped into the new position, in late December 2015, Listhaug vowed to make Norway’s asylum policies “one of the strictest in Europe.”

Since then Listhaug has been the hero of the Norwegian far right, a provocateur adept at trolling the Left and liberal media. In one stunt that received international attention — and prompted John Oliver to label her “perhaps the most Norwegian-looking human being that has ever lived” — Listhaug tested “how it is to be a migrant” by floating in a wet suit in the Mediterranean. During last year’s election campaign, she claimed that the leader of the Christian Democrats, Knut Arild Hareide, “and other politicians” were licking the backsides of Muslim clergymen.
The Right won the contest, and in the new cabinet she received a new appointment: minister of justice, public security and immigration. On election night, the far-left party Rødtwhich won parliamentary representation for the first time, vowed they would kick her out of office.



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