There are actually people living on Greenland with their own thoughts and opinions. Might be considerate to ask them what they actually think before asking Denmark to have their land. Apparently colonialism is back in fashion.

Why Trump’s Offer to Buy Greenland is so Offensive

The absurdity make us laugh and forget the darker side

Erik Engheim
5 min readAug 21, 2019


We are all having a joke and laugh about US reality star president Donald Trump offering to buy Greenland from Denmark. It is a serious enough offer that Donald Trump canceled his planned state visit to Denmark when Denmark made it crystal clear that they had no intention of selling Greenland nor was in a position to do so.

I spent some time looking at the reactions. Sometimes you read longer pieces by various Americans articulating why they think the deal would be good for America as well as for Greenland.

What shocks me about these writings is that so many Americans are utterly oblivious to how profoundly offensive the whole offer is. It should not be necessary, but I feel there is actually a need to explain more in detail why it is offensive.

There are several ways to think about this. Imagine China going out in public and announcing to the world that they intend to buy Mississippi. The premier of China then continues to remark how he think this would be a very good deal for both countries.

He says:

“I’ve have heard Mississippi is a big financial burden for America. They pay $18.9 a year to maintain it. I think American would be happy to be relieved of this economic burden.”

Then he continues to elaborate on how China has a great history in integrating various provinces. They could get a similar kind of deal as Macau and Hong Kong which has worked out really good for both parties.

This isn’t as far fetched as it sounds. Trump did in fact elaborate on what a financial burden Greenland was and how helpful it would be to Denmark if they just unloaded Greenland.

The second comment is a reflection of comments I’ve seen many American commentators make. One remarked on how good America had been to various territories under its control such as Puerto Rico. Which sounds like a mean spirit joke considering how poorly they were treated by Donald Trump.

So why would such a Chinese offer be offensive? Because the citizens of Mississippi was never asked what they wanted. Nor hat they prior expressed any wish to join China.

Not to mention that Americans take pride in looking at Mississippi as an integral part of America despite its economic problems. They don’t view it as a state they should get rid of because it costs them money. That is like selling one of your children because they how some disability which is expensive for you to pay for.

The Echos of Colonialism

The second way to look at this is through the prism of colonialism. The offer harkens back to the day when European powers sold and traded land with actual people on it as if it was little different from some plot of farmland. The subjects on the land were just pawns in a larger game, which the rulers paid not attention to. The mere idea that one should consider the thoughts, feelings and wishes of native people would have seemed like a joke to these old colonialists.

The French sold land to the US, with lots of native people living on it. But this was in a time when a government paying $1 to every citizens who murdered a native American women, child or man was accepted policy. It was just seen as some form of “vermin” policy. It was a time when pushing native American into tiny reservations at the choosing of the elite was fine while they eagerly bought and sold African slaves as if they were animals.

Is this really a time for which any present US politician should model their policies? Did Trump ever ask Greenlanders themselves what “they” wanted? No, he didn’t. He completely ignored that there are actual living human beings occupying Greenland. It is not some empty resource rich plot of land he can buy to mine and pollute.

The Importance of National Identity

It is rather presumptuous to assume that they even want to join the US, any more than Mississippi citizens would want to join China. It is not like Mississippi would jump on the deal as soon as China offered them a higher monetary transfer than the current US government. Your sense of nationality and belonging is not something that is up for sale.

Greenland is an autonomous region within Denmark. They have extensive self rule. It is not for Denmark to sell it, as that would make mockery of the whole idea of self governance. That is no different from Britain giving away Scotland to the US without asking the Scotts.

While Greenland has its own indigenous population, they have been a part of Denmark longer than the US has existed as a nation. Greenland was settled by Norwegian Vikings a thousand years ago. It became part of Norway. When Norway joined in a union with Denmark in medieval times, Greenland became part of Denmark. So there is an old history there. Greenland has over a long time been influenced by Danish culture, so they are a mix of the original Greenland Inuit culture as well as Danish culture. You see that on houses, their names etc.

Now I don’t know anybody on Greenland or what they are thinking. But I think it would be natural for them to think that this is where they belong. They have a long shared history. Why should they join the US.

When Norway was Autonomous under Sweden as Greenland is Autonomous under Denmark

I know this as a Norwegian. Norway was under Danish rule for 400 years before we just got handed over to Sweden, after the Napoleonic wars. While Denmark of course had in many ways been an oppressor, we had also forged a strong bond over that many years.

As Greenland today, Norway was for almost 100 years an autonomous country under Sweden. To US we viewed Sweden as the facade to the outside world, but we very much viewed ourselves as a free country then. That is why we celebrate 17th of May 1814, which is when we created our constitution, which became the basis for Norway as an autonomous democracy within Sweden. We don’t celebrate complete independence in 1905.

Had a US president come and asked Sweden if they could buy us, it would have been taken as an affront. The only reason I believe Greenlanders have not gotten angry is because they think it all seems so ridiculous and they know that Denmark would never take the offer serious.

Thus it ended up more as something to joke about rather than something to seriously discuss.



Erik Engheim

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.