Imagine this set of circumstances when Donald Trump was running for president:
The real estate mogul cum president decides he wants to buy the world’s largest island with U.S. funds. He and his son publicize images of what a massive building emblazoned with the Trump name would look like on the undeveloped island. The owner of said island, Denmark, says it’s not selling, and the island’s inhabitants say they have no interest in becoming U.S property. So Trump calls off a high-profile diplomatic meeting — creating a potential diplomatic row with an ally — over the whole thing.
It sounds like the stuff of parody — the kind of thing Hillary Clinton or one of Trump’s 2016 GOP primary opponents would have invented out of whole cloth to emphasize the potential ridiculousness of the Trump presidency. (And one of them, Ted Cruz, did in fact once muse about Trump nuking Denmark.)
But on Tuesday night, it very much happened.
The idea of Trump and the U.S. government purchasing Greenland isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might seem at first blush. As has been noted, the United States pursued just such a deal in the 1940s. It saw Greenland as such a strategic location during the Cold War that it established a base there. Fast-forward to present day, and China, a growing super power in the midst of a trade war with Trump, is also interested in the island. Out of all Trump’s fantastic ideas, this one may not really rank as high as some would like it to.
But then Trump takes it into the realm of the ridiculous. On Tuesday night, via Twitter, he postponed a long-planned trip to Denmark. He said that, “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.”
The thing about canceling his long-planned trip to Denmark — the kingdom to which the country of Greenland belongs — is not so much that it’s necessarily some kind of international scandal. But we were told that the purchase of Greenland was not really a big deal. It was supposed to be something of a flight of fancy from Trump — something that was on the table but not pressing.
Trump himself said Greenland “would be nice” for the United States from a strategic perspective, but he assured this weekend, “It’s not number one on the burner, I can tell you that.” Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said, “I’m just saying the president, who knows a thing or two about buying real estate, wants to take a look.”
Apparently more than “take a look”; he’s playing hardball and withholding a high-profile visit.
And the decision appears to have come out of nowhere. Just a few hours before Trump’s tweet, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, was promoting the meeting by (naturally) showing a building with Trump’s name atop it.
The decision has gone over poorly in Denmark, with lawmakers expressing dismay ranging from “It’s an insult” to calling Trump a “spoiled child” and saying he “lives on another planet.”
Generally in these situations, more high-ranking foreign leaders will treat Trump with kid gloves, to the extent they can. The United States is a vital ally throughout the Western world. Even when leaders think Trump is clearly being ridiculous, they’re not going to say so publicly, unless things get really bad.
But apparently Denmark’s and Greenland’s leaders went too direct in rebuffing Trump’s desire to pursue the biggest real estate deal of his life — quite literally — and the ego in chief can’t let that one slide. Either that, or he’s just having some fun with very serious issues of international diplomacy.
This post has been updated with the Danish reaction.