Last weekend, the US President Donald Trump caused controversy (yet again) when he suggested that the island of Greenland would be a great real estate deal that he would be interested in purchasing. The problem, as many pointed out, is that it’s not for sale.
The reaction from Greenlander and Danish politicians was one of incredulity. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the idea ‘absurd’ whilst former PM and current Venstre party leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen suggested that it was an April Fool’s joke.
So swift and complete was the ridicule that Trump himself announced on Tuesday that he was postponing a planned trip to Denmark due to the PM’s reluctance to discuss the potential purchase of Greenland.
This farce encapsulates everything negative about the Trump administration. His belief that an entire country, with a different language, culture and history, could be bought on a whim is like the madness of some feeble-minded emperor of the 17th century. But underneath is a cynical and selfish money-grabbing opportunity that reveals a lot about Trump’s priorities.
Greenland is an autonomous island in the North Atlantic sea. It is a dependent territory that is represented in the Danish parliament, whilst also being somewhat self-governing. It has rich reserves of natural gas and oil but the majority of their revenue comes from the Danish government.
It is this oil and gas that has probably sparked Trump’s interest; Greenland is usually covered in a thick ice cap that can be 4km thick in some places but climate change is thought to be melting the ice – making it potentially easier for companies to mine for these lucrative energy reserves. Trump has also jokingly tweeted about using Greenland to profit his construction business.
It also speaks to the ignorance of a particular breed of American politician that believes the US is the best place in the world, despite all evidence to the contrary. Greenland is a country with indescribable natural beauty but a number of social issues. The harsh weather and isolated location combined with a lack of jobs mean that alcoholism and unemployment are rampant. Greenlanders can travel to Denmark for work but are also entitled to utilise the comprehensive Danish social welfare system, which includes healthcare and education.
All education in Denmark – from primary school to university – is delivered free of charge. There is also a system of support grants (known as Statens Uddannelsesstøtte or SU) which are available for a variety of students, including up to 72 months of SU for higher education and monthly grants for students with disabilities.
For comparison, according to the Chamber of Commerce, there is currently more than $1.5 trillion of student debt in the United States.
Denmark has a universal system of healthcare that is paid for using national health tax, currently 8% of taxable income. General planning and regulation are set by the national government whilst the five administrative regions plan and deliver specialised services, finance hospitals and the majority of services.
In the US, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the average citizen spends $9,596 on healthcare. It is estimated that there are currently 42.9 million citizens with medical debt.
The idea that Greenlanders would want to sacrifice these safety nets for the chance to be American is a fairytale. Were the US to buy Greenland they would then have an area 1/5 the size of the states but with fewer than 60,000 inhabitants. They would need hospitals and doctors and social programmes to combat addiction. Employment would mostly be limited to dangerous work in oil and gas mining – which wouldn’t sit well with climate-conscious Greenland. Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria has shown his lack of care towards their own territories and they have even less to offer Greenland.
Strategically, Greenland makes for an attractive prospect. In WWII when Denmark was occupied, Greenland was an ideal place for the US’s Thule army base, still located there. An isolated, mostly uninhabited country located so far north would present the USA with an immensely useful base for monitoring airborne threats from countries as far away as China. With Trump ramping up tensions with China through tariffs, it’s not hard to see why Greenland is an attractive opportunity for Trump.
His postponement of a state visit to Denmark may come as a relief to some politicians in the Nordic country but also highlights the childish attitude of the current Commander-in-Chief. A state visit prompts an increase in security spending, plus the cost of hosting a visiting politician and entourage. The Police Federation in Copenhagen has pointed out that officers from all over the country have surrendered their other duties to prepare for the state visit. To pull out at such a late date based solely on a tantrum emphasises that Trump is limited in his capacity to think outside himself.
‘”President Trumps postponement of his visit to Denmark is a setback for our countries’ diplomatic connections but it might be for the best. The Arctic’s security- and environmental challenges are subjects too important to be treated simultaneously with hopeless discussions like the sale of Greenland.”‘
His mocking tweets reveal a lack of understanding of just how ridiculous his suggestion was – the image of a tacky gold tower dominating over the coastal cabins of Greenland is a greater criticism of the Trump regime than any historian could write. And it’s straight from the horse’s mouth.