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“Based on the Fact She Won’t Sell Me Greenland, I’m Staying Home”

Greenland was given its name by Erik the Red, the Norwegian who, after settling in the Viking colony of Iceland in the 960s, sailed west and in 982 discovered the huge island.

(There were people there already—Inuits, a people of Siberian origin scattered across northern North America. But it took a while before the Scandinavians and the indigenous met. This was not an early instance of European imperialism and the colonization of indigenous subjects so much as a quest for arable land and expression of medieval Nordic wanderlust.)

Greenland was an ice-covered wilderness, not green at all. Calling it Greenland was an expression of dry Nordic humor, and an advertising ploy. Erik wanted settlers for this newly discovered land, and they did come, from Norway and elsewhere.

Erik’s son was the famous Leif Erikson, who sailed further west and reached what is now Newfoundland, in Canada, although the Vikings established no permanent settlement on the continent.

(Always remember: Columbus was not the first European to “discover” the New World. The Vikings preceded him by half a millennium. So might also, by the way, some Celts and Basques.)

All of this is a matter of Scandinavian pride. Of one-quarter Swedish and three-eighths Norwegian ancestry, I myself am proud of it. Proud of the record of Viking exploration and trade, if not the brutal piratical raids. Proud of those Viking ships, marvels of efficient design. Proud of the fact that Scandinavians were the last Europeans to be Christianized; they held out heroically but capitulated eventually. Erik the Red was upset when son Leif tolerated Christianity in Greenland, ca. 1000.

Proud of the fact that both documentary and DNA evidence places my ancestors in Hordaland province, Norway, whence many of the Viking raids and voyages were launched.

I have cousins who legally changed my mother’s maiden name (Nelson) to “Nilsson” supposedly to be more authentically Scandinavian. I find this unnecessary. But I did name my only son Erik, with an emphatic K to make it clear this is not a British Eric but a Nordic one.

Greenland’s on my mind, of course, because the U.S. president has let it be known that he might want to buy the island. Then it would become part of my country. The romanticism of that! Trumps acquires the Viking island for the United States and I take my son on a pilgrimage to Erik the Red’s grave. (There is none, but one could be found and hotels soon established to handle tourist traffic.)

The hotel staff would likely reflect the local demographics—over 80% Inuit, or part-Scandinavian, part-Inuit. And my son Erik is half-Japanese. We could celebrate Viking achievement without wallowing in white nationalist pride.

But I suspect Trump’s white nationalism impels his (already repelled) initiative. (His interest, by the way, is not all that preposterous or unprecedented; President Harry Truman had been interested in 1946 in buying the huge, lightly-populated island sporting a U.S. Air Force base from Denmark. The Danes said no thanks. The U.S. has expanded historically through purchases of territory from France, Britain, Russia and other countries.)

Trump has a special admiration for Scandinavians. Why? Because they are quintessentially, famously, obviously white…no one whiter in this world!

Look at the map and imagine a White America spreading across the hemisphere to the world’s largest island (which geographers consider part of North America). (Never mind that the inhabitants are mostly descendants of people from Siberia, who crossed the Bering Strait after the major wave of Native Americans passed from Russia to Alaska thousands of years earlier.) Think of the white Danes in an impressive ceremony turning over the torch to Donald Trump, entrusting to him the development of Greenland’s rich resources.

Trump could then recruit white people especially from Scandinavia to better populate the island and exploit its rich natural resources. Icelanders—constituting one of the world’s most isolated genepools, with almost everyone descended from Norse ancestors with some Celtic thrall admixture—live nearby and could be coaxed to resettle in the U.S. Greenland Territory, preparing it for eventual statehood. It would be an almost all-white state due to policy and African-Americans’ sensitivity to the Arctic cold.

Ah, but I am fantasizing. The Danes and Greenlanders are laughing at Trump, joking about him— as would Hans Christian Andersen, as an emperor with no clothes. Or they’re indulging in angst over the man’s mental meltdown, as perhaps Soren Kierkegaard might do under the circumstances.

Or reflecting—as did Prince Hamlet (in Shakespeare’s depiction, “the melancholy Dane”)—that the “oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely” and “the insolence of office” while intolerable deserve resistance (as opposed to the “bare bodkin” of suicide).

They perhaps see in the foreign berserker a type like to that their old King Canute (Knud) who once famously commanded the incoming tide to halt, to test the power of kings.

Embarrassingly, according to the legend, the tide didn’t halt for the king. The king conceded his limitations. Greenland’s not for sale, and—to emphasize the positive—President Trump again made an ass out of himself in even bringing it up.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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