Gratulerer, my fellow Norwegian Americans, for a United States president at long last has invited our cousins toughing it out in the Old Country to migrate to the land of freedom and chronic traumatic encephalopathy — not like those undesirables inhabiting “shithole” countries.
By now, we’ve all probably heard that Trump used a scatalogically charged epithet to say what he really thinks of those countries in Latin America and Africa that, contrary to all available evidence, continue to send their wretched refuse to our shores. What the roughly 4 million of us with parents, grandparents or long-ago Viking descendants from the smallest Scandinavian nation also noticed was Trump’s idea of the prototypical non-shithole country: our humble Norway.
Trump reportedly wanted to know why Norway doesn’t send more of its people to the United States, evidently unaware that his (accurate) opinion of that country as better than a dump pretty much answers the question he asked: The Scandinavian social democracy, as its two linguistically similar neighbors do, has a higher per-capita GDP, life expectancy and, for what it’s worth, “happiness” rating than the United States. It also has universal healthcare, a ridiculously large sovereign wealth fund and top-notch infrastructure.
In fact, the Norwegian Americans I know often share stories of Googling citizenship requirements — hoping there’s some kind of loophole for the grandchildren or even great-grandchildren of emigrants — when they return to the States after a visit to the Old Country. It wasn’t always this way — in fact, far from it, and Trump was a young adult precisely when Norway made its dramatic transition from its status as the relative shithole of western Europe to a modern, wealthy social democracy. No, Norway wasn’t as poor prior to the development of its oil resources as many people think, but up until the 1960s it was fairly common for ambitious Norwegians to embark for the United States if they could.
The lesson for Trump, especially as he pushes to remake America’s immigration system, is obvious: Nations that occupy the proverbial sewer tend not to stay there (just ask any descendant of Irish or Italian immigrants), and if they do, the upwardly mobile, adventurous people willing to abandon the only world they’ve known for an equal chance and success or failure are an asset to this country.
Surely Erna Solberg — the Norwegian prime minister who visited with Trump on Wednesday, standing alongside the president for a news conference and providing an object lesson on deft statecraft and competent English — knows this, as she acknowledged the presence of millions of people in the United States who trace their ancestry back to Norway. More to the point, immigration in Norway is every bit as polarizing an issue there as in the United States, with Norwegian politics over the last two elections having undergone a lasting shift that has resulted in a tenuous governing alliance between hard-right nationalists and Solberg’s own conservative party.
But Solberg knows the fortunes of Norway, a country of only 5 million people, are linked inextricably with those of the world. Almost everyone there speaks English (you’ll be disappointed if you visit hoping to practice your Norwegian), and many maintain close ties to family members in places like America. Saying that entire regions of the non-white world are no better than what we flush down our toilets would probably set in motion the resignation of any Norwegian prime minister — and it ought to do the same for our president.