Greenland . . . Our New Manifest Destiny?

President Trump wants to buy Greenland. My first reaction: I was surprised that he would want to buy white people. But then I did some reading, and I learned that Greenland’s population is 88% Greenlandic Inuit, with 12% Danes and other Europeans. Maybe that eight-to-one ratio explains the acquisition mania.

On the other hand, I never thought that Trump would think desirable a place that does not have forests to decimate and is not dependent on coal or other fossil fuels. In what seems ironic, Greenland is one of the greenest places on the planet. According to one source, seventy percent of its power comes from renewable sources, mostly from hydropower. But perhaps this is an attraction for Trump. He can fulfill his promise to bring back jobs to the West Virginia coal fields by “ordering” the Greenlanders under some national security rationale to use coal. I can see the slogan as Trump supporters wear tee shirts proclaiming, “Make Greenland Sooty (Again).”

I wondered how Greenlanders have reacted to the proposed purchase by a world leader who does not believe in climate change. Greenland is ground zero for global warming. An ice sheet covers four-fifths of the island; it weighs so much that it has depressed the central part of island making it almost a thousand feet below sea level. The glaciers have been experiencing increased run off contributing to the rise of sea levels. Does a lessened ice mass also mean that the land will rise?

Perhaps, however, the Greenlanders favor global warming. It would not be surprising. Greenland’s capital and largest city, with a population of more than 17,000, (Quick! What is it?) Nuuk averages high temperatures below freezing for more than half the year. I assume, however, that the tourist agencies point out that the high in July is a relatively balmy fifty degrees Fahrenheit. A few degrees warmer and perhaps the residents will be able to break out bikinis and speedos. During the summer, the sun rises at 3:00 A.M. and sets at midnight, so there is a lot of daylight for any unrestrained outdoor frivolity. Of course, during the winters, the sun is above the horizon for only four hours, but those long nights perhaps call out for other appropriate activities.  

If Trump does buy Greenland, you would think he ought to make at least one visit, even though that it is unlikely since he does not own a hotel there and won’t be able to bill the American taxpayers for his stay to increase his family revenues. But perhaps those long nights appeal to him for all the dark hour tweets he can unleash. And maybe he is already watching Greenlandic porn movies to find a star for another extramarital bedding during a long night. But with Michael Cohen unavailable, who is preparing the nondisclosure agreements and assembling the hush money payments? I may not have anticipated that Trump would float the purchase idea, but surely no one should have been startled that he showed the usual pique when the nasty Danish threw ice water on the idea. Canceling a scheduled trip to Denmark seems par for his course, but, of course, he does not own a golf course in Denmark and does not apparently have a way to bill us taxpayers and increase his revenues by a Copenhagen visit.

It was expected that conservative pundits would weigh in and maintain that Trump was again showing his genius. Too often the difference between these commentators and a rubber stamp is that the latter leaves an impression, but I was surprised that Trump-is-always-right sycophants have cited climate change—yes, climate change!–as a reason why the U.S. should purchase Greenland. An article on the Fox News website states, “But what makes Greenland particularly valuable to the United States is global warming. The unavoidable receding of Arctic sea ice will open a new sea route in the Arctic that can be used for both commercial and military vessels.” What especially struck me about this contention was the use of the term unavoidable. Global warming is happening, the writer to my surprise wrote, but his position is that it is inevitable. Increasing temperatures can’t be helped, apparently. I guess the writer believes that it is God’s will, so we should just go with it and seize the opportunities. If we can keep the warming going and the ice diminishes and the seas rise, new sea routes will open allowing ships to go where they have not gone before. So, stop being so negative about climate change (which Trump says is not happening) and revel in new sea lanes.

What the writer did not make clear, however, is why the new ship routes, if they occur, mean that it is essential that we own Greenland. Aren’t there many sea lanes around the world important to us where we do not own the adjacent land? Why is this different?

This writer also said, as did others who find a way to support Trump after he makes a pronouncement no matter what it is, that Greenland has valuable minerals that should not fall into China’s hands. Why, then, don’t we try to buy the mineral rights? Indeed, those of us who believe in free enterprise and fair trade should expect American corporations to see the opportunity and seek to get all this valuable stuff. These Trump-is-amazing writers don’t give an explanation for this apparent failure of American capitalism. Where is their faith in free enterprise without government intervention? Isn’t that the point of cutting governmental regulations, which they support?

(concluded September 6)

The DSK Bar–Danish Edition

The woman came into the DSK bar looking as if she were trying to find someone. She sat on a stool next to me. I returned to my book, but she soon asked me if I knew the bar’s owner. I pointed her out. The woman, whose name I no longer remember but I’ll call Brigitte, went over to the owner and after a short conversation, left. A few weeks later, I learned that Brigitte had been hired as the bar’s manager. 

Over the next month or so, I found out that she was married to a Frenchman who cooked in a restaurant a couple miles away. She, however, had been born and raised in Denmark. I asked if she was aware of the book The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, which I had recently read. She was not but asked me about it.  

I told her that Russell, who is English and had edited a British magazine, moved to Denmark when her husband got a job with, what else, the Lego Company. Russell had seen surveys that placed Denmark at the top of lists with the happiest populace. She set out to figure out why because she learned quickly that there were some reasons not to be happy about in her new home. It has a harsh climate and high taxes. (When a Britisher complains that somewhere else has an unpleasant climate, you can be damn sure that the weather is not an attraction.) Russell soon realized, however, that the Danish had learned to cope with and accept the weather. They also did not bitch much about the taxes because the country used them to provide excellent health care, education, childcare, and other social services. In addition, partly because of the tax structure, extremes in wealth were much less than in England. Riches were seldom flaunted, and few people seemed to think they would be happier if they only had a few more euros. Russell thought that this led to more contentment throughout Danish society than what she observed in Great Britain. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise for Russell and her husband was the many fewer hours the Danes worked compared to the English. The Danes had a lot of days off for holidays and national celebrations and were provided with extensive vacation time. In addition, the Danish work day is short. Her husband came home from work much earlier every day than he had in England. Danish life was not simply work, eat, and sleep. The Danes had time for other activities, which they did in abundance. They did them, however, in a different fashion from the way Russell was used to. Danes seldom acted by themselves or just with another person or couple. Instead, they did them in groups. There were clubs for almost everything, from biking to knitting, and the Danes regularly participated in club activities. As a result, Russell realized, the Danes were almost always connected to others.  

Russell, however, was struck by an anomaly. She noted that many studies had found a positive correlation between happiness and religion, but Denmark, which is not very religious, belied that. She was not surprised by the lack of religiosity. She cited studies concluding that the better educated and wealthier the country is the less likely its population believes in a higher being and participates in religious rituals. Russell noted that the USA is an outlier for this correlation—a country that is wealthy and highly educated, but still high in religious practices and beliefs. Russell went on to say, however, that America may have much in common with third world countries. Unlike highly taxed Denmark, the US lacks universal healthcare, has scant job security, and has a flimsy welfare net. Perhaps, she speculated, people are less likely to need a God if they live somewhere that is safe, stable, and prosperous. In other words, those in a secure and prosperous land, living without fear of health and financial disasters, are more likely to be happy than those in a more god-fearing country without universal healthcare, good job security, and a tightly knit welfare net. 

Helen Russell also found that several clichés about Denmark were true. First, there were a lot of candles. Lots and lots of them. (Get your hygge on.) Second, she discovered that its reputation for excellent pastries was well deserved. She mentioned this repeatedly, and it was clear that she had much firsthand (firstmouth?} experience to back up the claim. 

The bar manager listened with interest to Russell’s exposition of Denmark’s strengths. Brigette did not agree. She did not think of Denmark as a place to be happy. Instead, it was a land of enforced conformity that undercut individuality. Brigette had been happy to leave her homeland and had no desire to return. (Yes, she did know who Victor Borge was. I did not ask her about Hamlet.) 

Brigitte did not remain as bar manager for long. I was told that she and her husband moved to France. I hope she is happy.