What would Shakespeare say about Trump’s spat with Denmark? (Denmark?!?)

In this Aug. 16, 2019, photo, New York University student researchers sit on a rock overlooking the Helheim glacier in Greenland.  U.S. President Trump announced his decision to postpone an early September visit to Denmark by tweet Tuesday Aug. 20, 2019, after Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen dismissed the notion of selling Greenland to the U.S. as

In this Aug. 16, 2019, photo, New York University student researchers sit on a rock overlooking the Helheim glacier in Greenland. U.S. President Trump announced his decision to postpone an early September visit to Denmark by tweet Tuesday Aug. 20, 2019, after Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen dismissed the notion of selling Greenland to the U.S. as "an absurd discussion." (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

I have breaking news. Shakespeare has updated a line from Hamlet: “Something is rotten, but it’s not in the state of Denmark.”

Because Donald Trump’s bright idea of buying Greenland from Denmark has to be a joke, right? Doesn’t it sound like something conjured in jest by John Oliver or Stephen Colbert?

But no, Trump is serious. On Sunday, he said: “Essentially, it’s a large real estate deal,” presumably better than his 1988 dream deal for New York’s Plaza Hotel, which declared bankruptcy seven years after he bought it. And yesterday, when the Danes realized that he is serious  — that he thinks of them as mercenaries who’d be willing to sell off part of their sovereign kingdom — they did not take it well. Martin Lidegaard, head of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, tweeted at Trump:

“Please stop.”

We’re with you, Martin. Welcome to our world.

Is it my imagination, or is Trump getting loopier by the day? Today he called himself “the Chosen One.” And on the policy front, he said over the weekend that our economy is strong, that there’s no sign of recession, and that we consumers are “rich” – but then word leaked that Trump might want to cut payroll taxes to juice the supposedly strong economy. Then, yesterday, a Trump spokesman denied it, saying that a payroll tax cut “is not being considered at this time.” Then, within hours, Trump told reporters: “Payroll tax is something that we think about. I’ve been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time.” Then, today, he told reporters that he’s not thinking about a payroll tax cut, because “we don’t need it.”

But I digress. It takes a stable genius to wreak havoc with Denmark, of all places — a faithful NATO ally that has fought with us in Afghanistan. Heck, it’s even filled with blond white people. Trump had been slated to visit Denmark at the start of September, and the Danes were excited about hosting what passes these days for an American president. But after Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said over the weekend that the offer to buy Greenland was “absurd,” and that “Greenland is not for sale,” Trump retaliated yesterday by shelving the visit indefinitely. Then earlier today, he said he was peeved at Frederiksen: “I thought it was a very not nice way of saying I can’t buy Greenland…You don’t talk to the United States like that, at least under me.”

Has his very not nice reality show jumped the shark or what? Susan Simpson, a Washington attorney and podcaster, tweets: “Thirty years from now kids in history class are going to be asking why we let the president keep being president after he threw a tantrum because he couldn’t buy Greenland.” George Conway, husband of Kellyanne, has a question: “How do you say, ‘Our President is a complete crackpot’ in Danish?”

The best case for a purchase, I suppose, is that massive, glaciered Greenland is becoming more strategically valuable thanks to the devastating effects of climate change. Sea ice is melting, so there are new opportunities in the Arctic for shipping goods and extracting mineral resources — which are abundant in Greenland. And buying Greenland would foil some of China’s economic ambitions. Trump’s staffers have been reportedly gaming out a taxpayer purchase for weeks, without first informing the Danes (sovereign owners) or the people of Greenland (who essentially govern themselves).

We can talk geo-strategy, but this is really about something else. Trump signaled it 32 years ago, in “The Art of the Deal,” when his ghostwriter put these words in his mouth: “Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

This Greenland episode is about his overweening ego and lust to leave some kind of legacy — like Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and Andrew Johnson’s purchase of Alaska in 1867. It’s also further evidence of his transactional mentality, his belief that everything and everybody is for sale. It’s like when Michael Corleone went to Las Vegas and told a hood: “My credit good enough to buy you out? The Corleone family wants to buy you out … I leave for New York tomorrow, think about a price.”

OK, enough jokes. Let’s even forget Trump’s infantile joke about building a Trump Tower on Greenland (very presidential behavior). Time to get serious for a moment. Denmark’s prime minister said yesterday: “Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over.” And Thomas Wright, a Europe expert at the Brookings Institution, tweeted yesterday: “This is no longer funny. Danish troops fought alongside the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. 50 Danes died. The president dishonors the alliance and their sacrifice.” And lest we forget, Vladimir Putin loves it whenever his choice for president undercuts NATO and rattles Western allies.

But levity is essential while we dwell within the realm of the ridiculous. One presidential candidate even glimpsed our absurdist future back in ’16 when he quipped: “We’re liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark!” Funny guy, that Ted Cruz.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.