Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Read more opinion on CNN.
President Donald Trump seems to have a peculiar obsession with Scandinavian countries. He just insulted Denmark, a NATO ally, petulantly canceling a trip in which Queen Margrethe II planned to personally host him and the First Lady – a great honor – and disparaging Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, calling her “nasty” – one of the insults he generally reserves for strong women.
The Danes were visibly baffled, openly irritated, and the royals laconically offended. The palace said they were “surprised” by the cancellation, adding diplomatically, “We have nothing more to say about this case.”
It all came after Frederiksen rebuffed Trump’s idea of buying Greenland, an independent Danish territory, as “absurd.” She was hardly alone in the sentiment.
But this was not the first time that Trump’s interactions with Scandinavian states have produced bewilderment, laughter or anger.
There’s just something about Trump and Scandinavia. The President, it seems, has intriguingly strong feelings about the region.
The most telling clue came in his book “The Art of the Deal,” where Trump falsely claimed that his grandfather “came here from Sweden as a child.” But, according to a historian, Trump’s grandfather moved to the United States from Germany after he was expelled for failing to perform mandatory military service.
Perhaps in his heart, Trump would like to be Swedish.
Or maybe Norwegian. Recall that last year Trump was reported to have complained in an Oval Office conversation that so many Haitians and people from what he called “shithole countries” want to move to the United States. Trump has denied making the comments.
He wondered why more people from Norway don’t want to come.
Norwegians said thanks, but no thanks, while Americans pondered what exactly it was about Norwegians that made Trump want them as immigrants. Then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was asked in Congress if she knew that Norwegians are predominantly white. She claimed she didn’t know.
The vast majority on Norwegians, in fact, are white.
Trump’s Scandinavian obsession includes vociferous concerns about non-white immigration to Sweden. In early 2017, during a campaign rally in Florida, Trump said Sweden, with “large numbers” of immigrants, is “having problems like they never thought possible.”
He then alluded to what happened “last night in Sweden.” The Swedes were at a loss. What happened last night? Nobody knew. Heads were shaking. Trump was a brand-new President then. I was in Amsterdam at the time. Everyone was trying to figure out the unusual new leader of the free world.
The bewilderment was everywhere.
Apparently, Trump had watched some debunked story on Fox News about Sweden. Back then, we still didn’t know how far Fox would go in becoming the purveyor of “intelligence” to the new Oval Office occupant.
Curiously, two days later there were riots in an immigrant neighborhood in Stockholm. A New York Times investigation later found that Russian television crews paid young immigrants to “make trouble” in front of the cameras. One witness said, “They wanted to show that President Trump is right about Sweden.”
For the President, the large-scale immigration to his Nordic faux-ancestral homeland was a source of concern.
More recently, the President raised eyebrows with a personal plea to the highest levels of the Swedish government on behalf of the rapper A$AP Rocky, who had been arrested after getting into a fight in Stockholm. Trump phoned Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, asking him to intervene in the case.
Swedes were appalled at Trump’s apparent belief that a political leader could openly interfere with a criminal case. Former Prime Minister Carl Bildt wrote “There certainly are countries … where the judiciary is little more than an instrument of the arbitrary powers of the ruling strongman,” noting, “Sweden is most certainly not one of those countries.”
Trump seems torn between slack-jawed admiration and visceral disappointment with Nordic nations. When touring the devastation after the horrific California fires last year, Trump said the President of Finland had explained to him that “we are a forest nation,” but don’t have many forest fires because Finns spend a lot of time raking the forests. Finland had a collective chuckle. President Sauli Niinistö said he didn’t recall telling Trump such a thing.
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Still, Trump wanted Americans to learn from Finland.
Trump appears to feel an affinity for Scandinavia and the Nordic countries. Even if he doesn’t really have Swedish blood, it’s almost as if he feels he does. He is proud of their successes and disappointed in their failures, as if they were his family.
Now, if only he could buy a piece of Denmark…