The Real Reason Trump Wants to Buy Greenland

Nuuk, Greenland

Like most of us, I am sick of hearing, reading, or talking about Trump. Friends will ask if I’ve heard of the latest outrage he’s committed, and I’ll usually answer, “No.” What’s the point? It’ll either be bigoted, ignorant, dishonest, or utterly destructive to civilization’s future. Usually all of the above.

It’s standard-brand Republican politics, as practiced for at least 40 years, but with more boorishness. Trump’s fans love him for these things, and I have no interest in trying to discern their motives. Some sort of psychological disorder, no doubt, and not a particularly compelling one.

So I was overjoyed to recently read that Trump has been pestering aides with questions about whether the United States can buy Greenland. That’s the kind of amusing, harmless stupidity I hope for from Republican administrations. Like Bush II mispronouncing “nuclear” or Reagan telling Gorbachev that if aliens attacked Earth, America and the USSR would work together.

Even better were the responses of semi-sane people. The Guardian had a fun article quoting Greenlanders and Danes, both politicians and average citizens. (Greenland is self-governing, but still technically a protectorate of Denmark, which provides what military defense the island requires.) Their comments ranged from the sensible (“Why on Earth would anybody want to be an American colony?”) to incredulous (“It must be a joke!”). A member of Denmark’s “nationalist” (read: anti-immigrant) party said, “It is definitive proof that [Trump] has gone crazy.” Again, that’s the far-right, anti-immigrant party speaking.

Note to Danes: it’s not a joke, and he’s been crazy for a looooong time before this.

What the Danes Have Told Me

We have several old Danish friends. (When Mrs James left for college, her father developed empty-nest syndrome and had a series of exchange students; she’s stayed in touch with the ones she liked best.) One spent a few years living in Greenland, another is a communications specialist in the navy.

The com specialist has observed in the past that Denmark and every other nation with Arctic territory maintains a naval presence in the Arctic Ocean. “Basically,” she said, “we just sail around and let each other know we’re there.” Reduced thickness of sea ice has made it possible for oil companies to put oil rigs in places where, before, the ice would crush them like tinfoil. As some of the sites oil companies are interested in lie well offshore, the question comes up of whom has sovereignty over which international waters. “I like it when we sail up north,” she told us. “It’s not so damn hot.”

The man who lived in Greenland left because he broke up with his girlfriend there. Besides, he said, he was drinking too much. The largest town has 17,000 people, and in smaller ones it’s common to stock up goods for the winter before basically hunkering down. If one’s relationship is going sour, there really isn’t much else to do but drink. (Rationing would be key here.)

His response to Trump’s proposal was the simple text message “Why?!”

Seriously, Why Would America Want Greenland?

Several writers have addressed this question, with varying levels of seriousness. A columnist covering European affairs for Bloomberg actually typed about “reviving the market in sovereign territories, which once made America great.” Brian Kahn, usually a environmental writer for Gizmodo UK, said the idea was “plainly, batshit,” but addressed some of the possible geopolitical advantages (world’s largest supply of freshwater, mineral deposits under a melting ice sheet, military location, etc.) My favorite was by Matthew Walther at MSN, who noted that Greenland is essential territory in the boardgame Risk:

So far the Danes are insisting that they are not interested in a sale. We should remind them that they are spending $600 million a year to subsidize the fantasy that the most remote part of North America is actually European. We should also offer them an absolutely ridiculous amount of money — paying off their entire national debt, a match of whatever their GDP is for the next 20 years, the rights to the next five Super Bowls, Trump’s second-favorite son changing his name to “Erik.” As far as the Greenlanders themselves go, they could get the Armageddon deal: no taxes ever, for the rest of their lives.

No one is going to feel bad about the price tag in 50 years when Helge Damsgaard and her Sirius Patrol shield-mate Kaj Knudsen successfully defeat Russian forces off the coast of Uunartoq Qeqertaq armed with only a pair of laser axes.

Right you are, sir. Yet, just to pretend, let’s look at the “serious” reasons one-by-one.

Seriously, These Reasons Make No Sense

Mineral deposits/oil reserves: Greenland does have these. So why would Denmark have any conceivable reason to sell? They’re a perfectly wealthy country, with a diversified economy (and a better standard of living than that of most Americans) — they don’t need our money. Their asking price would be well what the territory is worth and more; it’d be cheaper for us to just bomb some suffering nation and steal their stuff.

Strategic military location: we already have bases in Greenland. Denmark is part of NATO, as we are (for now). In fact, one of our planes once caught fire and crashed while carrying huge atomic bombs. The bombs didn’t go off (these near-misses have happened more often than most people know), but the crash spread toxic radiation over a wide area. Needless to say, Greenlanders were not pleased.

Besides, we’re not living in 1964, Dr. Strangelove days anymore, when B-52s were our primary nuclear delivery threat: we have submarines that can shoot missiles from anywhere, and ICBMs which can shoot missiles to everywhere. One decommissioned silo in South Dakota, now the Minuteman National Historic Site, features a giant blast door painted by USAF staffers to resemble a Domino’s Pizza box. The tagline: “Worldwide Delivery In 30 Minutes Or Less / Or Your Next One Is Free.”

That’s from a Cold-War era missile silo. I promise you today’s missiles go much faster.

Water: Neither Trump nor any other Republican cares remotely about America’s drinking water supply (ask Flint, Newark, etc). If most of the water on Earth gets poisoned, rich people will have access to the last good stuff.

What Trump Does Care About, Bigly

Once you count territorial possessions, the United States is Earth’s fourth-largest country, geographically, behind Russia, Canada, and China. Purchasing Greenland would make us a solid #2.

Would anyone really put such an idiotic motive past Trump? He wants the biggest military parade and biggest wall. He lies about having the biggest audiences and largest fortune and greatest electoral victory. (If Trump consciously lies, which I doubt; I suspect he thinks that whatever he thinks is true.) He’s said that the World Trade Center attacks made his Trump Tower the biggest building in downtown Manhattan. He brags about TV ratings and Twitter followers. Let’s not forget his ridiculously oversized neckties.

Maybe this is some kind of Freudian thing, or simply the twisted mindset of aspirationally rich people — keeping up with the Joneses taken to psychotic extremes. I don’t particularly care. Serial killers are far more interesting than rich people (and ultimately far less dangerous).

In any case, this explanation makes the most sense to me. So I’m officially calling it the best. And the biggest.