Donald Trump won’t be going to Denmark in 10 days. Because the Danes won’t sell him Greenland.
“Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time,” Trump tweeted Tuesday night. “The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”
It’s easy to dismiss this episode as just another Trumpian flight of fancy that didn’t work out. But take a minute and you start to realize that the whole Greenland incident, which lasted a total of five days, is broadly emblematic of the entire approach that Trump has taken to being president. The Greenland episode is the Trump presidency.
Consider how we got here:
1) The Wall Street Journal reported last Thursday that Trump has repeatedly quizzed aides on the possibility of buying Greenland.
2) On Sunday, before boarding Air Force One in New Jersey to head back to Washington, Trump addressed the story for the first time. Here’s the key part of what he said (bolding is mine): “Denmark essentially owns it. We’re very good allies with Denmark. We protect Denmark like we protect large portions of the world. So the concept came up and I said, ‘Certainly, I’d be. Strategically, it’s interesting, and we’d be interested.’ But we’ll talk to them a little bit. It’s not number one on the burner, I can tell you that.”
3) Denmark’s government freaks out. “Greenland is not for sale. Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland,” Frederiksen, the Danish Prime Minister, told the newspaper Sermitsiaq on Sunday. “I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.”
4) Trump cancels the Denmark trip, citing Fredericksen’s comments that Greenland isn’t for sale.
5) Trump is asked about the whole thing and tells reporters that he thought the prime minister’s statement (that the idea of selling Greenland to the US was “absurd”) was “nasty” and “inappropriate.”
What a whirlwind!
Now consider the Greenland purchase in the context of Trump’s broader presidency. It meets all the criteria that have come to define his “modern-day presidential” approach to the job.
*Come up with a totally off-the-wall idea, with a whiff of America-gets-its-way-no-matter-what in there
*Idea leaks — or the White House leaks it as a trial balloon — to the media, with the caveat that his aides aren’t sure if he is serious about it
*Downplay idea, insisting the media got it wrong — even while leaving the door open to doing the deal if the other side is open to it
*Take ball and go home when off-the-wall idea is rejected, jeopardizing relationship with longtime strategic ally
See, the Greenland story really does have it all! It is the Trump presidency in microcosm. He says and does absolutely wild things. Even his top staffers aren’t sure how serious he is about it, and, therefore, don’t know whether to actually pursue it. The idea leaks to the media and immediately becomes a thing. Trump freelances, making up his views as he goes. A semi-serious conversation about whether any of this is even possible begins even as the intended target starts to freak out. Trump, either spurred or spurned by all of the attention, leans in — to it all. Then it all unravels because, as we later learn, he was winging it all along. There was never any “there” there — just Trump saying stuff.
(A quick sidebar on the this-is-all-a-strategic-distraction from gun control or immigration, etc., argument: No, it isn’t. Is there anything you have seen in Trump’s time in office that would lead you to believe that he is capable of that sort of strategic planning and execution? It’s readily apparent at this point that Trump is just saying stuff — and then reacting to how those things land with the general public. There is no three-dimensional chess. There’s not any kind of chess being played.)
Greenland was never for sale. Mexico was never going to pay for the wall. His inauguration crowd was never the largest in history. There was not blame on both sides in the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville. Immigrants were never invading our country in hordes. Background checks were never going to happen.
You get the idea. It’s the Trump presidency.