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'No, thanks': Norwegians pooh-pooh Trump's crude invitation to emigrate

Odd Andersen, AFP | Sitting on the boardwalk parents watch children play and swim from a floating dock off the island of Lindoya in the Oslo fjord on July 18, 2014.

Donald Trump on Thursday reportedly tarred African nations, Haiti and El Salvador as “shitholes”, proposing the US instead welcome more immigrants from Norway. The former remarks were widely panned, the latter ridiculed -- all the way to Norway.


“Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries,” Trump was quoted saying in the Oval Office on Thursday. “We should have more people from Norway," he added, according to wording reported by a Reuters source. Trump on Friday denied the language, if not quite the tenor, of the remarks, but Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was present, stands by the story.

Beyond the outrage elicited for the countries Trump disparaged, Americans and Norwegians alike took to social media to chide the president for the Scandinavian part of his remarks. In essence, they begged the question of why Norwegians should decamp to the US at all. It turns out one prospective migrant’s El Dorado may well be another’s “shithole”.

“I wonder if @realDonaldTrump realises that Norway is a functioning social democracy with free healthcare for all citizens and beautiful natural surroundings. Why would we want to live in his ‘shithole’ of a country these days?” tweeted Hein Kristiansen, an Oslo architect.

As a point of fact, some point out that Norway’s universal healthcare isn’t free. Norwegians do advance cash for healthcare until they reach a set amount for the year, about 2,200 krone or $275 for basic health services, after which the rest of the year is free. Of course, Norwegians do contribute to that affordable healthcare through much higher taxes than Americans. But neither of those factors prevented Norway from scoring the top spot in the 2017 World Happiness Report's ranking, while the US placed 14th.

The report’s authors, which include top US economist Jeffrey Sachs, note that Norway is sometimes said to “achieve and maintain its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many resource-rich economies.” They write, “To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance…” – attributes difficult to apply to a manifestly divided America and its acrimonious politics.

In sharp contrast, the World Happiness Report calls the US “a story of reduced happiness”. The report attributes the drop to “declining social support and increased corruption and it is these same factors that explain why the Nordic countries do so much better".

Norway also, yet again, topped the most recent United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index; the US ranked tenth. The UNDP’s figures show Norwegians can expect to live 2.7 years longer than Americans and live more connected lives (nearly all are Internet users compared to three-quarters of Americans). The murder rate in the US, according to the 2016 HDI’s figures, is 650 percent higher than Norway’s.

On Twitter, one observer pointed out that, according to a calculation put forward in 2015 by the US public policy organisation Demos, the “poorest Norwegian children are twice as rich as the poorest American children".

Many commenters also pointed to Norway’s state-funded higher education -- which make tuition-free universities the general rule for locals and foreign students alike -- as a reason Norwegians might think twice about absconding to America despite its president’s overtures.

Trump himself may be particularly uncomfortable in Norway -- and not merely because, relative to Norway’s tiny population of five million, it has nearly three times as many of the African immigrants he pooh-poohed as the US does. The billionaire president might also be uneasy with Norway's fiscal transparency. As David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, noted on Twitter, “An interesting fact about Norway is that they post every Norwegian’s income tax return on the Internet.”

Some Twitter users, suggesting Trump’s sudden fondness for a snowy paragon of social democracy might have something to do with its citizens pale complexion – or, indeed, recalling Trump’s opinion that Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members could be “very fine people” – noted that one Norwegian who might be enamored with Trump’s America is white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik. Breivik is currently serving Norway’s maximum possible prison sentence for the mass murder of 77 people in 2011, including 69 at a summer camp for young socialists.

Norwegian comedian André Ulveseter, meanwhile, was more generous in his assessment of Trump’s sudden affection for Norway, the gist being more coiffure than fuhrer.

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