President Trump Eyes a New Real-Estate Purchase: Greenland

In conversations with aides, the president has—with varying degrees of seriousness—floated the idea of the U.S. buying the autonomous Danish territory

President Trump made his name on the world’s most famous island. Now he wants to buy the world’s biggest.

The idea of the U.S. purchasing Greenland has captured the former real-estate developer’s imagination, according to people familiar with the discussion, who said Mr. Trump has, with varying degrees of seriousness, repeatedly expressed interest in buying the ice-covered autonomous Danish territory between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

In meetings, at dinners and in passing conversations, Mr. Trump has asked advisers whether the U.S. can acquire Greenland, listened with interest when they discuss its abundant resources and geopolitical importance and, according to two of the people, has asked his White House counsel to look into the idea.

Some of his advisers have supported the concept, saying it would be a good economic play, two of the people said, while others dismissed it as a fleeting fascination that will never come to fruition. It is also unclear how the U.S. would go about acquiring Greenland even if the effort were serious.

With a population of about 56,000, Greenland is a self-ruling part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and while its government decides on most domestic matters, foreign and security policy is handled by Copenhagen. Mr. Trump is scheduled to make his first visit to Denmark early next month, although the visit is unrelated, these people said.

Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday morning that the island wasn’t on the market.

“We’re open for business, not for sale,” the ministry said on Twitter while emphasizing Greenland’s natural resources and tourism potential.

U.S. officials view Greenland as important to American national-security interests. A decades-old defense treaty between Denmark and the U.S. gives the U.S. military virtually unlimited rights in Greenland at America’s northernmost base, Thule Air Base. Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, it includes a radar station that is part of a U.S. ballistic missile early-warning system. The base is also used by the U.S. Air Force Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The U.S. has sought to derail Chinese efforts to gain an economic foothold in Greenland. The Pentagon worked successfully in 2018 to block China from financing three airports on the island.

People outside the White House have described purchasing Greenland as an Alaska-type acquisition for Mr. Trump’s legacy, advisers said.

The few current and former White House officials who had heard of the notion, described it with a mix of anticipation and apprehension because it remains unknown how far the president might push the idea. It generated a cascade of questions among his advisers, such as whether the U.S. could use Greenland to establish a stronger military presence in the Arctic, and what kind of research opportunities it might present.

Though it has vast natural resources across its 811,000 square miles, Greenland relies on $591 million of subsidies from Denmark annually, which make up about 60% of its annual budget, according to U.S. and Danish government statistics.

Though Greenland is technically part of North America, it is culturally and politically linked to Europe. Following World War II, the U.S. under President Harry Truman developed a geopolitical interest in Greenland and in 1946 offered to buy it from Denmark for $100 million. Denmark refused to sell. And that was the second failed attempt—the State Department had also launched an inquiry into buying Greenland and Iceland in 1867.

At a dinner with associates last spring, Mr. Trump said someone had told him at a roundtable that Denmark was having financial trouble over its assistance to Greenland, and suggested that he should consider buying the island, according to one of the people. “What do you guys think about that?” he asked the room, the person said. “Do you think it would work?”

The person believed the president was interested in the idea because of the island’s natural resources and because it would give him a legacy akin to President Dwight Eisenhower ’s admission of Alaska into the U.S. as a state.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled to visit Greenland in May with the aim of discussing long-term peace and sustainable economic developments, particularly since “we’re concerned about activities of other nations, including China, that do not share these same commitments,” a senior State Department official said at the time. Mr. Pompeo was also scheduled to visit the New York Air National Guard in Kangerlussuaq, which supports U.S. scientists conducting research on Greenland’s ice cap. His trip was called off at the last minute because of escalating tensions with Iran.

Kenneth Mortensen, a real-estate agent in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, said that the running joke in Greenland currently is that Mr. Trump is traveling to Denmark with the sole intention of buying their island. But he said Mr. Trump might run into some trouble.

You can never own land here,” Mr. Mortensen said, as all land is owned by the government. “In Greenland, you get a right to use the land where you want to build a house, but you can’t buy.”

“Of course, buying Greenland is a different issue altogether,” he added. “I’m not sure about that.”

Are the Danes Melancholy? Are the Swedes Sad?

That lower G.D.P. number conceals two important points. First, by any measure people in the lower part of the income distribution are much better off in Nordic societies than their U.S. counterparts. That is, there is a lot less misery in Scandinavia — and because everyone has some chance of falling into low income, this reduces the risk of misery for a much larger share of the population

Second, much of the gap in real G.D.P. represents a choice, not a cost. Nordic workers have much more vacation, much more time for family and leisure, than their counterparts in our “no vacation nation.”

.. They aren’t “socialist,” if that means government control of the means of production. They are, however, quite strongly social-democratic: as Exhibit 1 shows, they have high taxes, which finance much more generous social benefits than we have here. They also have policies on wages, working hours, and more that tilt the balance toward workers in a number of dimensions.

.. Clearly, the Nordic economies are better for lower-income families — roughly the bottom 30 percent of the population.

.. But this understates the case, because these data don’t include “in kind” benefits like health care and education. All of the Nordic countries have universal health care — not just single-payer, but for the most part direct government provision (a.k.a. “socialized medicine.”)

Nordic education also lacks the glaring inequality in quality all too characteristic of the U.S. system.

.. Once you take these benefits into account, it’s likely that at least half the Nordic population are better off materially than their U.S. counterparts. But what about the upper half?

.. a large part of the difference — in the case of Denmark, more than all of it — comes from a lower number of hours worked annually per worker. This does not reflect mass underemployment. Instead, it reflects policy: all of the Nordic countries require that employers give workers a minimum of 25 days of paid vacation every year, while the U.S. has no leave policy at all.

.. Once you take vacations into account, Denmark and Sweden basically look comparable in performance to the U.S.

.. The point for welfare comparisons is that while Nordic families at, say, the 60th percentile of the income distribution have lower purchasing power than their American counterparts, they also have much more free time and an arguably better work-life balance. Are they really worse off? You can make a good case that taking all of this into account, the majority of Nordic citizens are actually better off than Americans.

.. The O.E.C.D. publishes measures of self-reported “life satisfaction”; all of the Nordic nations rank above the U.S. Objective measures like life expectancy and mortality rates are also much better in Scandinavia.

 

 

Notes on a Butter Republic

for decades the right has tried to shout down any attempt to sand down some of the rough edges of capitalism, whether through health guarantees, income supports, or anything else, by yelling “socialism.” Sooner or later people were bound to say that if any attempt to make our system less harsh is socialism, well, they’re socialists.

.. The truth is that there are hardly any people in the U.S. who want the government to seize the means of production, or even the economy’s commanding heights. What they want is social democracy – the kinds of basic guarantees of health care, protection against poverty, etc., that almost every other advanced country provides.

.. Denmark, where tax receipts are 46 percent of GDP compared with 26 percent in the U.S., is arguably the most social-democratic country in the world.

.. According to conservative doctrine, the combination of high taxes and aid to “takers” must really destroy incentives both to create jobs and to take them in any case. So Denmark must suffer from mass unemployment, right?

 

How to Destroy Democracy, the Trump-Putin Way

All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.

fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—

  • a devastating world war,
  • drastic economic upheaval, the
  • fear of Bolshevism.

.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?

.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:

  • elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
  • once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
  • while inflaming powerful popular currents of
    • authoritarianism,
    • racism,
    • nationalism,
    • reactionary religion,
    • misogyny,
    • homophobia, and
    • resentments of all kinds.

.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”

.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.

.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.

There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.

.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and

.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.

Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.

One could mention

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
  • Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
  • India’s Narendra Modi as well.

Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by

  • unemployment and
  • austerity,

right-wing “populist” parties are surging in

  • Italy,
  • Greece,
  • the Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Austria, and even
  • Sweden and
  • Denmark.

And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.

.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.

.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:

  • They control the media,
  • pack the courts
  • .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
  • “reform” education,
  • abolish long-standing precedents, and
  • use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.

While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret. 

.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.

.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.

.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The

  • fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
  • MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
  • Fox-addicted retirees, the
  • hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
  • gun nuts have found one another.

.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.