“Sykkelgunnar” rides through US politics
Aftenposten writer cycles through the country, interviewing locals about political beliefs
The Norwegian American
Why are Americans so angry with politicians? That is just one of the questions that Gunnar Kagge, also known as Sykkelgunnar, is asking as he cycles across the United States this summer. The Norwegian writer for Aftenposten has been collaborating with the newspaper as he interviews Americans throughout the country and shares daily updates through social media.
Sykkelgunnar departed the East Coast in July and expects to arrive in Washington State in October, and we had the opportunity to ask him about his journey thus far.
Molly Jones: Can you tell us a bit about your journey and how you came to be covering the U.S. election while cycling across the country?
Gunnar Kagge: This summer, for three months, I get to combine both my passion for cycling and my interest in American history and politics. I feel extremely privileged doing this.
MJ: Why did you choose to cycle? Do you feel that cycling gives you a different perspective than driving?
GK: Twelve years ago, I drove with my family from Chicago to San Francisco, and some years later we went from New York and south to Georgia. They were great trips, but I felt like John Steinbeck noted in Travels With Charley that the roads are so good that you can cross the continent without seeing anything.
MJ: You set off to find out why Americans are so angry with politicians and how the election came to be held between two candidates who are disliked by so many. What have you discovered thus far?
GK: It was during the nomination process that I was struck by the anger at the established politicians. It is nothing new that candidates promise to “clean up in Washington,” but this year it seemed to hit both parties hard, with recent party members such as Trump and Sanders upsetting the establishment.
And my conversations with what must be more than a hundred voters confirm a deep frustration with the establishment. I ask people to rate “their confidence in Washington” on a scale from one to five, one being bottom. Most answer one or two.
To me as a “mainstream media” representative, it is also a bit sad to hear the very deep distrust in the media.
MJ: What has been the most interesting perspective you have encountered among American voters?
GK: Most Norwegians, or Europeans, would consider Hillary Clinton the only acceptable candidate. I see it as part of my mission to show my readers that Republicans and Trump supporters have their reasons, and that they for the most part (at least those I meet) are rational people. And I try to both understand and explain their frustrations.
MJ: What is the most remarkable location you have visited?
GK: My wife was with me for the first weeks of the trip, and together we went down to Harlan County, Kentucky, and talked to the laid-off coal workers. They were all super friendly, and I understand their frustration and anger, although I think it is too easy to blame Obama for it all.
And Guffey, Colorado, was super cool, a very small community of old hippies and bohemians.
MJ: How have Norwegians back home responded to your articles and posts?
GK: Very much of what I do is on Facebook, with good opportunities for readers to respond. And the response has been overwhelming. I spend quite a lot of time answering questions. And very many appreciate that I let the voters speak instead of asking pundits and political scientists.
MJ: Why do you feel that Norwegians are so interested in American politics?
GK: America is fascinating, and many Norwegians feel family bonds to American relatives. It is also a highly favored vacation destination.
And the U.S. is very important to Norway when it comes to defense and security. That is why Trump’s talk about NATO guaranties scares many.
MJ: How do you expect the remainder of your journey to differ from your experience thus far?
GK: The fun with cycling is that I really see the regional differences. Leaving the Bible Belt and going north is interesting. Every day brings something new. And now I look forward to the big national parks.
You can follow along with the remainder of Sykkelgunnar’s journey (in Norwegian) on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sykkelgunnar, on Twitter at twitter.com/sykkelgunnar, and on Aftenposten at www.aftenposten.no/verden/Sykkelgunnar-Pa-tvers-av-USA-239930b.html.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.