Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate

Polar boor: Greenland episode shows Trump at his usual worst

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A person walks by a Copenhagen news stand in the Copenhagen Central Station displaying newspapers with the reactions to President Donald Trump's cancelation of his trip to Denmark after Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's refusal to discuss the sale of Greenland.

It traces back at least to the Wilsonian project, during and after World War I, to create a U.S.-led organization of the world’s leading democracies, which would work together to preserve the peace, and to promote the spread of democracy. It has never been perfect. It has waxed and waned, succeeded and failed, reached a high point during the Obama years.

Donald Trump is the biggest threat, at least since the rise of Hitler, to the continuation of that project.

I’m not comparing Trump to Hitler, except in this small category of my own devising, as threats to that wonderful vision of a world in which democracy is always spreading, in which the United States generally favors and supports that spread (except when it didn’t, and there were several such cases, about which I’ve written before, in which the United States led or participated in the overthrow of democracies, in Iran, Chile and Guatemala for example, for its own selfish reasons).

So I’m not naïve about the “project,” or about U.S. altruism nor even about its commitment to the spread of democracy. And I don’t mind that Trump has decided to make such a big deal about demanding that our NATO allies increase their military spending to the agreed-upon percentage of GDP. They agreed to it. Most of them can afford it. And, by not doing so, they feed the Trumpian narrative that they are playing the United States for suckers. Trump, who has been playing others for suckers his whole life, knows how to play the sucker card.


All of which is an overlong introduction to my reaction to Trump’s despicable treatment of a long-time loyal ally, Denmark, because Denmark is not interested in selling Greenland to Trumpist America, and Trump was obnoxious or stupid enough to announce to the world that he wanted to buy it without asking whether it was for sale.

That, for starters, is neither the way to treat an ally, nor even the way to try to buy something. I don’t get why he did it that way, unless he is just stupid or has no control over what comes out of his mouth. But, okay, he said — apparently without letting Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen know that he had any such agenda and as she was preparing to welcome him for a visit as the leader of a key ally of her country — that he wanted America to buy Greenland. And, when she was asked about it, Frederiksen dismissed the idea as “absurd.”

No one from a piss-ant little country like Denmark gets to call anything Trump said “absurd” and get away with it.

Trump, as you have no doubt heard, was so offended that he canceled the state visit. Trump, who calls everyone who doesn’t worship at his altar much worse things than “absurd,” decided to insult a small but loyal and not unimportant ally by canceling a visit during which he would have been welcomed and probably fêted, coddled and pampered. He called her comment “nasty,” which seems to be his favorite way of insulting women. And Trump, who specializes in always expressing himself in the nicest way possible, clarified via the age-old diplomatic method of tweeting it out to the world, that her word choice (“absurd”) was “a very not nice way of saying something.”

For her part, Frederiksen clarified, not by tweet, that “Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over.” Perhaps that also qualifies as “nasty,” but to me it’s closer to “nice,” in at least acknowledging that there people who live in Greenland who might like to think they are not for sale.

Greenland is, by a huge margin, the world’s largest island, though mostly unpopulated. Its native population are Inuit, who emigrated from North America eons ago. Greenland is much closer to Canada than to Denmark, but has long been under at least titular Danish rule with a high degree of self-governing autonomy, managing its own affairs except in the areas of defense and foreign policy. Greenlanders have their own parliament but also have two representatives in the Danish parliament, and treat the Danish queen as their symbolic head of state. Perhaps Trump should have tried to buy them from the queen.

The main point, in case my snideness above didn’t make my attitude clear enough, is that Trump found yet another way to demonstrate that he can dish it out — if by “dish it out” one means he can call people names — but he is incredibly thin-skinned himself, believes he is entitled to anything and everything he wants including buying a populated island without regard for whether the seller has any interest in selling or the residents have any interest in being bought, takes everything personally, can’t imagine that the leader of a little country like Denmark would have any larger purpose than complying with his weird desire to acquire some already inhabited real estate, takes any resistance from a member of the female gender as particularly offensive, and, perhaps most important, doesn’t understand that being the temporary leader of a superpower not only doesn’t mean that he can order around all the allies he inherited from previous history, but actually should have a major interest in not acting like his allies are his serfs.

Someone could have talked him about that in POTUS 101, but he skipped class that day.

P.S. I just stumbled on an ad for a t-shirt that the National Republican Congressional Committee is selling, which features a map showing the United States and Greenland. Greenland is colored in American flag colors (as is the U.S.) and the online ad’s message reads:

“Support President Trump and his efforts to help America grow!”

For a contribution to the NRCC of $25 or more, you get a copy of the shirt. The shirt’s map makes it look like Greenland is a short swim off the coast of Maine. The actual Maine to Greenland distance is a little over 2,000 miles. (Canada and Iceland, both actually very close to the coast of Greenland, are off the T-shirt map. But neither of those actual neighbors are trying to acquire it.)

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (42)

  1. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/23/2019 - 11:32 am.

    There’s not much to say about this latest idiocy by our President, other than pointing out he apparently offerred to trade Puerto Rico for Greenland. Which, if you think about it, might be a good long term play. At the current pace of climate change, Greenland is turning into a nice, temperate area while Puerto Rico is going to just get hotter & suffer more, stronger hurricanes.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/23/2019 - 01:26 pm.

      Yeah, the trade is a lovely idea, until you take a look at it seriously. You look at the people of the two counties, one brown skinned and one not, you see that its a decision born in racism.

      • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/23/2019 - 02:03 pm.

        ..two places…not two countries…

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/27/2019 - 10:17 am.

          Oh, they’re two countries–the US and Denmark. The places are parts of countries, the people of which are citizens of those countries. The people part is the important part. They are not property to be bought, sold, or traded. They can’t be removed from their homes without their consent, so the idea of purchasing or trading for either of Greenland or Puerto Rico IS absurd. And I appreciate Fredrikson for not sugar coating it. We need to stop coddling the giant baby and do what he says he does–“say it like it is.” Except like it REALLY is.

  2. Submitted by Misty Martin on 08/23/2019 - 11:38 am.

    Eric:

    As usual, President Trump’s arrogance and ignorance are just too much to believe, and yet there they are . . . and still . . . his supporters, like the actor Jon Voight, for instance . . . insist that he’s the best President that we’ve had in this century. And with President Trump claiming he’s “the chosen one”, it boggles the mind and sickens the stomach. I sometimes wonder if we’ve gone down the rabbit’s hole in “Alice in Wonderland”, it’s so surreal and SCARY!

    • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 08/24/2019 - 08:05 am.

      To me, what’s surreal is that it’s NOT surreal….things like this actually happen on a daily basis, here in Trumpsylvania. In a sense, it’s the inverse of Leonard Wibberly’s The Mouse That Roared; instead of the world’s smallest nation acting as the most powerful, it’s the world’s most powerful nation acting as the smallest. In the book, a twist of fate led Grand Fenwick to acquire the Q-bomb, which unbeknownst to the world, was actually a dud. In real life, a twist of fate led America to acquire Trump, which in full view of the world, is actually a dud.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/23/2019 - 11:39 am.

    I’ve been listening to NPR and the BBC this morning, and it’s kind of funny the way pundits dance around the obvious and undeniable absurdity of Trump’s Greenland proposal. It doesn’t matter what kinds of mineral or other riches due to global warming or whatever… Greenland is a sovereign nation and is not for sale. It doesn’t matte if we can imagine why Trump wants to buy it… the suggestion is almost psychotically absurd.

    His response to the Danish reaction is almost as psychotically absurd, this was literally an emperor has no clothes episode.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/26/2019 - 07:39 am.

      Yes, the lame stream corporate media still haven’t figured out that Don Trump plays them like a fiddle.

      They can’t bring themselves to report that the emperor has no clothes.

  4. Submitted by Al Mohring on 08/23/2019 - 11:47 am.

    I believe someone in the State Department set up the trip to Denmark. At a later point in time, Donald decided he didn’t want to make the trip. So he picks a fight with The Prime Minister. Simple!

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/23/2019 - 01:30 pm.

      Donald invited himself to Denmark in a tweet, saying that he might visit after he leaves Poland. They took the hint and extended an invitation and began the complex and costly preparations for the visit. The dude is about a low class a person as you will find.

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/23/2019 - 12:34 pm.

    I think we’ve reached Peak Trump with this event: a stupid idea is bruited about; the response is nearly unanimously negative, except for the pro-Trump zealots; and a long-standing, close ally is insulted, with the added bonus of an epithet he likes to use to describe women who aren’t properly submissive to his will.

    The added Trumpian seasoning is that the whole dust-up could easily have been avoided with no embarrassment to anyone. A sane administration would have shrugged the whole thing off, saying that a lot of ideas get discussed in the White House, but that doesn’t mean anyone thinks they’re going to move forward with them.Unfortunately for the image of the United States, the President is about as thin-skinned as they come, incapable of ignoring perceived lèse-majesté. Letting things slide just wasn’t going to happen.

    Interesting side note: the last time the United States (or, as far as I can tell, any country) acquired inhabited territory by purchase was when we purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1916.

  6. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 08/23/2019 - 12:59 pm.

    In summary: psychotic.

  7. Submitted by joe smith on 08/23/2019 - 02:19 pm.

    Abandon chasing Puerto Rico as 51st state and acquire Greenland. Tons of natural resources on Greenland, tons of problems with Puerto Rico. As good of a buy as Alaska or better.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 08/23/2019 - 04:14 pm.

      Obviously we’d want to take a good look at the teeth of the natives first, to make sure they’d be sturdy ore-bucket carriers.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/23/2019 - 05:12 pm.

      The problem is that it’s not for sale.
      Again, what part of ‘no’ does Trump not understand?

    • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 08/23/2019 - 05:18 pm.

      Joe, perhaps consider whether the people of Greenland want to be purchased and have their natural resources plundered from underneath them.

      The 19th century is over. Colonialism is immoral.

      • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 08/24/2019 - 08:10 am.

        I found that to be the most egregious things about the whole Greenland fiasco – did Trump ever consider the fact that Greenlanders might not WANT to become the property of the United States? Interesting, too, that he felt he only had to consult Denmark – a mostly white nation, by the way – about the matter.

    • Submitted by John N. Finn on 08/23/2019 - 07:42 pm.

      Statehood for one or the other only if North and South Dakota are combined so our flag design won’t change.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/26/2019 - 07:46 am.

      This episode just goes to show how the entire GOP and conservative movement are in thrall with Don Trump, and have lost all sense of perspective and independence.

      Before last week, if anyone other than Don Trump had mentioned buying Greenland, it would not even have been laughed off, it would have just been ignored. But when Don Trump mentions it, all his followers get behind the Dear Leader to march in lockstep.
      No one dare question The Chosen One, or point out that his idea is idiotic.

      When Obama was POTUS, there was plenty of dissatisfaction with progressives. In now way did the likes of Warren or Sanders march blindly to White House orders.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/26/2019 - 09:06 am.

      Funny thing about those “tons of natural resources:” no one is making any moves to get them out of the ground. That tells me it is not a viable proposition, due either to economics or politics. Economics would mean that it would be too costly to extract resources from an inhospitable climate. Politics would mean that the people who live there don’t want it to happen. It’s not the Tuborg-sipping, bike riding tree huggers in Copenhagen who are making that call. Greenland has almost complete autonomy over its internal affairs, so it would be the locals who have decided they don’t want to be a colony devoted to exploiting natural resources.

      In order for Trump’s extractive fantasies to come true, the wishes of the locals would have to be overridden, to favor US economic interests. That wouldn’t be the first tiem that’s happened, but it has never ended well.

  8. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/23/2019 - 05:02 pm.

    You’re right Eric, for someone who always acts like he’s such a tough guy, when the smallest slight comes his way, he’s a complete and ridiculously thin-skinned ‘snowflake’.

    The worrying thing of course is that this asinine Greenland incident is just one of about 10 in just the last 10 days for pete’s sake, and many of them are more serious and worrisome than the Greenland flap –

    1. Today – he has labelled both Fed Chairman Powell and President Xi of China as an ‘enemy’, and says the only question is which is the biggest ‘enemy’. Wow. Off-the-rails.

    Like we really need the head of China to be our enemy and Powell should slash interest rates to near-zero in a good economy.

    The stock market tanks as a result, thanks Don.

    A few days ago, XI was ‘my friend Xi’ now he’s an ‘enemy’.

    Kim of north Korea was ‘little rocket man’ and being threatened with fiery armagedon not that long ago, but now he’s his best pal and gushes about the ‘beautiful’ letters he receives from him, while Kim launches more nuclear missile tests.

    Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the donkey!, as Mom used to say to prevent herself from swearing!

    2. Says he believes in stronger gun background checks and doesn’t believe the NRA’s “slippery slope” reasoning on one day, and then a few days later says our background checks are already ‘plenty strong’ and argues that it’s a ‘slippery slope’ to enact more gun control legislation!

    I thought you said you didn’t believe in the slippery slope argument?, now you’re presenting it as if it’s a wonderful argument and something you just thought of yourself! Unbelievable flip-flop with some plagiarizing to boot!

    3. The laughable Greenland self-inflicted humiliation. And more souring of the US – European alliance which he has already seriously damaged.

    4. Says Jews are being ‘disloyal’ if they vote democratic

    5. Says he would actually like being called king and agrees with some nut job who wrote that he was ‘sent from God’.

    6. Says he is ‘the chosen one’ to deal with China.

    7. The serial draft dodger ‘jokes’ during a medal of honor award that ‘Maybe I should get one of these!”.

    8. ‘Jokes’ that he may stay in office as president “for another 10 or 14 years.

    Of course you have to wonder if he’s really joking since he’s raised this idea of staying in office as president beyond 2 terms several other times, including congratulating now ‘enemy’ President Xi when he was given a lifetime appointment a while back, and saying “maybe we should try that here!”.

    9. Gives a ‘thumbs-up’ signal, smiling with wife Melania for a picture like it was a wonderful, happy occasion while holding a baby who’s father was just murdered in a mass shooting.

    A shooting that he probably helped inspire himself with his hate-rallies.

    10. Today – ‘Hereby orders’ US companies to leave China.

    Okay – so now he’s not just the dictator and sole ruler of the US government, but like a true despot, can order anyone in the country, including private corporations, to do whatever he wants!

    No limits to his power – he ‘hereby orders’ you to do something and you’d better comply, no matter who you are.

    Wow, talk about scary delusional.

    The wheels are coming off the bus I think people, as we see the frequency and severity of this kind of talk and behavior increasing almost exponentially as time goes on.

    I just hope the public in general and the cowed republican congress and senate are paying attention, and will wake up and start realizing this guy needs to go in 2020, and be held in check until then, because he’s so far off-the-rails that he thinks he’s pretty much the emperor of the world.

    He needs mental health treatment stat IMO, and the poor guy belongs in a treatment center, not in the white house, where he is doing serious damage, and future outbursts and actions could get even worse of course, given that he arguably has the most powerful job in the world.

    • Submitted by Mark Gruben on 08/24/2019 - 08:23 am.

      Very often, the mere mention of any Trumpian fiasco to any Trump supporter tends creates an angry reaction on their part. In the case of Greenland, though, some of the more ardent are insisting that it’s not a bad idea, really; in fact, it’s really a very GOOD idea…after all, Harry Truman tried it in 1946, and he was a Democrat. A certain Republican group is even hawking T-shirts showing Greenland as part of the US. Seriously, folks? Is this really happening?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/24/2019 - 12:13 pm.

      I agree that many of his statements are ignorant, self-contradictory and likely to have negative consequences. This is not necessarily a sign of mental illness; there are plenty of sane fools around.
      As a psychologist (licensed at one time) I would not want to make a mental health diagnosis without a formal direct professional evaluation.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/26/2019 - 07:48 am.

        Please read James Fallow’s piece here: https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2019/08/if-trump-were-airline-pilot/596575/

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/26/2019 - 01:57 pm.

          I did.
          Airline pilots are checked by mental health professionals — Trump has not been (ever, as far as I know).

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/26/2019 - 04:14 pm.

            Clever how you completely miss the point of the article.

            if you had a neighbor who was behaving in a manner that suggested she could well be a danger to herself or others, you (I hope) would act, rather than stand by and and mouth platitudes.

            But yes, let’s just let Don Trump create a bigger fiasco than he already has.

          • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/26/2019 - 04:18 pm.

            I read an interesting article the other day that I think made a powerful point regarding the argument you’re making.

            It pointed out that after about 3 years (including campaigning in 2016) of heavy exposure to his tweets, filmed interviews, press conferences and press releases, that mental health care professionals probably have FAR MORE EXTENSIVE EXPOSURE TO, AND OBSERVATION of his behavior and mental state than they do, before they diagnose the vast majority of their private patients.

            I’m not sure how much difference it makes whether a person is physically in the office of a psychologist or whether it’s recorded on a filmed TV interview and viewed by a psychologist, when a person says “I’m a stable genius” on multiple occasions, as one example.

            If we had a reclusive, introverted person who was very quiet and reserved, I can see the need for in-person sessions to try to “draw them out”, since in public, they don’t show much of themselves or their thought processes, or personalty.

            However, in this case, we’re talking about a person who is ’emoting’ unbelievably strongly pretty much every day, and outgoing to an extreme.

            Certainly medical doctors make diagnoses on the other side of the country or the world based on recorded films of patient injuries, x-rays and so on, and the same for all of engineering and science occupations for that matter.

            I’m not clear how an experienced mental health professional with lots of experience can’t make a diagnosis after watching and reading (tweets, press releases) of 3 years of a person’s behavior, including hundreds of hours of camera footage where you see can experience not just the words, but the tone of voice used, and the body language of the person.

            You can experience the person in this way pretty much as if they were standing or sitting 5 feet away, and I’d argue actually that a person willing to say “I’m a stable genius” publicly in front of TV cameras is probably a much bigger indicator for example of grandiosity than someone saying it one-to-one with a mental health care professional.

            It means the filter most of us have, even for people who do have inflated views of ourselves, that make us hesitate to say anything like that in public, for fear of being ridiculed or criticized, doesn’t exist – for them it’s just a fact apparently, like saying I had oatmeal for breakfast.

            Indeed, there ARE mental health professionals who have come out with their concerns and rough diagnostic impressions of the president, and even whole groups of them if I remember correctly, so I’d say you’re assertion is very much up for debate, even in the industry.

            For myself, it doesn’t make sense that only those things that take place in the actual physical presence of a mental health professional are of diagnostic value.

            Again, all the other health care sciences and sciences in general, don’t try to equate this special magic of personal physical proximity to their ability to do their work.

            • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/27/2019 - 12:09 pm.

              Behavior that flows out of unfettered privilege and entitlement is not classified as mentally ill behavior. Sure, he might be a narcissist, he certainly has adjustment issues, etc. but the core issue isn’t mental illness (although mental competence may be a legitimate issue). At the end of the day a diagnosis of mental illness hinges on whether or not the disorder prevents a person from living a “normal” life, i.e. Mentally ill people eventually end up in treatment because they can’t or have serious difficulty functioning. Well, Trump is the POTUS… he won the election, etc. etc. He may be an horrid human being and president, but you can’t see he isn’t “functional”.

  9. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/23/2019 - 06:10 pm.

    Posted here for additional reading; James Fallows has another sober take on the reality we’re in:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2019/08/if-trump-were-airline-pilot/596575/

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/24/2019 - 12:45 pm.

      An excellent article Brian, thanks for posting it.

      Anyone who is not a member of the probably beyond reach, drank-the-koolaid group of hard-core believers, and who has even the slightest doubts about Trump should read it and reflect on it.

      I thought the analogy of how people saying and doing the things Trump has, who have high-responsibility jobs, would probably be removed from those jobs or at least monitored VERY closely or forced to receive treatment, was a very powerful point.

      It’s true, I can’t see a CEO or an airplane pilot or a surgeon who would be allowed to stay on regular active duty, with the long track record of disturbing, narcissistic, and destructive statements and actions that our president has engaged in.

      Yet, the president of course has thousands of time more impact on the country and the world than a mere CEO or airplane pilot or surgeon.

  10. Submitted by Mark Gruben on 08/24/2019 - 08:38 am.

    For a moment, let’s parse Trump’s tweet that American companies are “hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.” There are actually three separate orders in that decree: find other markets for products, move factories back to the US, and begin production on American soil…and each of these orders involves many separate requirements, which I won’t enumerate here. Yet he just tosses it off as a tweet. The point being, however, that this are things that companies are “hereby ordered” to do, by the President of the United States. No discussion. No questions asked. Do as I say.

  11. Submitted by George Kimball on 08/24/2019 - 09:22 am.

    Although I don’t pretend that this observation is based on carefully reviewed data, I’m pretty certain that in the past month, and especially the past two weeks or so, the percentage of MinnPost and New York Times “comments” by Trump supporters and defenders – in articles that describe the increasingly bizarre details of the latest Trump words/actions, has decreased dramatically. Perhaps from a previous 20% to a current 5% or less.

    Could it be that even many die-hard Trump supporters are at a loss to find a defense or rationale for this deranged guy?

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/24/2019 - 11:35 pm.

      They can’t defend the indefensible and make it sound like they are lucid. All you have to do is provide a summary of Trump’s accomplishments like Kids in Cages, and the fact that Debts and Deficits are OK. Then trying to defend Trump just becomes too much. This is only the start of defections which will accelerate the closer we get to the 2020 election, because the dictator will be getting more and more unhinged. Remember, once you think Trump has hit bottom, he easily finds another indefensible bottom. I understand his supporter’s problem. It is exhausting for them to try and make sense of Trump’s nonsense. You may have noticed someone today suggested to Eric that he not report on Trump for a month. I guess he is feeling Trump fatigue too. Keep at it Eric, you are doing a good job.

  12. Submitted by Charles Thompson on 08/26/2019 - 02:10 pm.

    Tom Cotten has joined the fray. Great minds think alike.

  13. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/27/2019 - 10:25 am.

    “I just stumbled on an ad for a t-shirt that the National Republican Congressional Committee is selling, which features a map showing the United States and Greenland. Greenland is colored in American flag colors (as is the U.S.) and the online ad’s message reads:

    “Support President Trump and his efforts to help America grow!””

    Whut…

    So, when is the GOP/NRC going to change it’s motto to “Make America a Slave State Again”?

Leave a Reply