Donald Trump admires “winners” and his favored immigrant group, the Norwegians, are winning so much at the Winter Olympics that they are probably getting tired of hauling around medals. If the president were to take a closer look at the Scandinavian nation, however, there is little else beyond athletic success he would personally find appealing.
Pyeongchang is exposing the world to fun-loving, towheaded Norwegians killing it on snow and ice. Mostly hidden from public view is the state that helped nurture these successful young athletes. The Kingdom of Norway is a rich country that has long contradicted the American approach to social welfare. Like tripped-up skaters, its policies on Russia, guns, healthcare, international aid, refugees, trade, education, the correctional system, and fiscal responsibility are entirely out of sync with Trump.
They don’t even agree on what defines a “s---thole” country. After Trump’s infamous comments about Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, Norwegians said they weren’t interested in emigrating to the USA, suggesting American decline and Trump had turned the USA into a “s---hole”.
In South Korea, Norway’s national team has schussed away enough Winter Olympic medals to start a foundry. On the world stage, too, Norway earns gold for its commitment to democratic values and governance. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual “Democracy Index” ranked Norway at number one. Norway scored perfect 10s on electoral process and pluralism, political participation, and political culture, with near perfect scores on civil liberties and government functioning.
America, on the other hand, was downgraded in 2016, going from being a “full democracy” to the humiliating “flawed democracy” rating it currently maintains. The index’s researchers cite that “public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the U.S.” leading to a “corrosive effect on the quality of democracy.” While the USA (21st place) at least qualified for the democracy race, tarnished silver is not exactly a symbol of pride or beacon of hope to the world.
Defending democracy is set up to be a joint US-Norwegian project via NATO, a collective defense organization currently led by former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Bordering Russia, Norway is an ardent NATO supporter and clear-eyed critic of an increasingly threatening Moscow.
Norway pays its fair share in NATO dues to defend against Vladimir Putin’s more assertive Russia. Donald Trump, on the other hand, arrived in the Oval Office both admiring Putin and questioning the value of a free-riding NATO alliance. The president has viewed NATO less as Europe’s protective shield and more as an American protection racket.
NATO is not the only big ticket item in Oslo’s budget. As a nation, Norwegians have committed to building and bolstering international aid programs with an annual fiscal spending goal of 1 percent of annual GDP, far exceeding the United Nations target of 0.7 percent of national GDP. The United States gives the most total dollars in global aid annually, but Trump wants to slash that aid cash dramatically.
Norway, an oil producing country, may be considered a profligate nation by U.S. standards, but it has amassed a hard-working trillion dollar sovereign wealth fund to cover future expenses and protect the nation from over-reliance on the fluctuating global energy markets. The Norwegians saved and invested. Trump’s America, by contrast, is much more focused on instant gratification than deferred and compounded reward, as the just passed and signed trillion dollar deficit spending bill makes clear.
Republican deficit hawks should take note: Norway figured out a way to have both guns and butter.
Norway remains open to refugees, responsibly builds infrastructure and invests the nation’s profits not only to prevent deficits, but to enhance citizen welfare, improve the correctional system, provide free university, and build a better national healthcare service. America’s debates today surround record debt, entitlement cuts, and moving away from universal healthcare. Norway, the little country that earns Olympic medals in its sleep is wildly outperforming a chest-thumping, self-declaring nation of “winners.”
There are many things to admire about Norway but there is one thing that Donald Trump would definitely disdain — Norway’s open documents rule that makes everyone’s tax return public by putting them online. During my (free) university graduate school days in 1980s Scandinavia, I was surprised to find that tax filing was incredibly simple. It’s just as shocking to learn that looking up any Norwegian’s annual earnings and total assets are as easy as doing a Google search. A recent look at Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s filings showed she earned around $200,000 with assets amounting to $260,000.
Open tax returns may be part of the reason why the 2017 World Happiness report found Norway to be the happiest country on earth (followed by Nordic fellow traveler states Denmark and Iceland). Knowing how much your neighbor earns, seeing that there is less income inequality, or maybe just beating a few Russians in the Olympics might all contribute to the happy factor.
A decade ago, the USA was in the top three on the global happiness scale. Now, due to “declining social support and increased corruption,” America recently dropped to 19th place. Happiness can be fleeting, but if Donald Trump released his tax returns and turned the national discourse both kinder and gentler, he could Make America Happy Again.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where the 2018 Winter Olympics were taking place, which is Pyeongchang, South Korea.