President Trump greets Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the start of a joint news conference at the White House on Jan. 10, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Perhaps the reason President Trump seized on the idea of green-lighting immigrants from Norway is that on Wednesday he played host to that country’s prime minister. The two held a joint news conference, during which Trump fought off questions about Russian collusion and embraced Norway’s use of hydroelectric power.

When he met with senators on Thursday to discuss immigration, then, Norway was at the top of his mind.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump asked, referring to countries like Haiti, El Salvador and those in Africa. Why couldn’t we just take in immigrants from, say, Norway?

The Fix's Eugene Scott explains how Trump's "shithole countries" comment is the latest example of his history of demeaning statements on nonwhite immigrants. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

The subtext to Trump’s comments about the former group of countries was hard to miss. As he has so many times in the past, Trump singled out for disparagement groups of people who are Hispanic, black or Muslim. But the flip side in this case was that he also singled out for praise one of the least ethnically diverse countries in the world.

This is tricky to measure. If you ask the CIA, for example, one of the least ethnically diverse countries in the world is Iceland, given that 94 percent of its population is Norse and Celtic. By contrast, Norway’s population is slightly less homogeneous, with 83 percent of residents being Norwegian and another 8 percent from elsewhere in Europe.

But by a more detailed metric, Norway is near the top of the list in terms of ethnic homogeneity. In 2002, researchers from the Harvard Institute of Economic Research compiled an analysis of the ethnic fractionalization of every country. That is, they set out to calculate, using a variety of factors, how homogeneous or how diverse countries were, assigning each a value between zero (ethnically uniform) and one (fractionalized).

A number of small island nations had lower scores than Norway, but few large nations did. Greenland, Yemen, Tunisia and Portugal were all less fractionalized than Norway, as were the Koreas and Japan. But that’s about it. Norway’s score was 0.0586, one of the lowest in Europe.


The highest score was in Uganda; a number of African nations had higher scores. The United States was about in the middle. Haiti had a relatively low score of 0.095 — just above France. The ethnic homogeneity in Haiti, of course, isn’t of the same ethnic background as Norway.

There’s an interesting footnote to this data. Our Josh Dawsey, who broke the story of Trump’s comments about Haiti and Africa, notes that the president singled out another region for praise.

“The president, according to a White House official, also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because they help the United States economically,” Dawsey writes. That no doubt includes South Korea and Japan, two of the least ethnically diverse countries in the world. (Immigrants from North Korea are already banned from entering the country by the administration.)

There’s certainly a component of Trump’s assumption that immigrants from those areas will “help economically” that has undertones, but we’ll leave that for others to pore over.