by William H. Benson
January 25, 2018
On January 11, President Trump met with Senators in the Oval Office to discuss immigration.
At one point a Senator mentioned that the U.S. should also “admit people from Haiti, El Salvador, and certain African nations,” a suggestion that enraged the President.
“Why,” he asked, in caustic and unprintable terms, “are we having all these people from those countries come here? It would be better to get immigrants from places like Norway.”
In a vindictive act aimed at the President, Dick Durbin, a Democratic Senator, leaked the President’s comment to the press. Commentators jumped with both feet onto the President, and not for the first time they pinned the label “racist” on him.
World leaders condemned his words. Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse, said that he was “deeply shocked” by Trump’s “abhorrent and obnoxious” comment. Fifty four African nations said they were “extremely appalled at, and strongly condemn, the outrageous, racist, and xenophobic remarks.”
Donald Trump is not the first U. S. president to rank a certain country’s people as desirable for immigration to the U.S., and another’s as undesirable.
In Woodrow Wilson’s fifth and final volume of his A History of the American People, published in 1901, he wrote that in the eighteenth century, “men of sturdy stocks of the north of Europe had made up the main strain of foreign blood which was every year added to the vital working force of the country, but now there came multitudes of men of the lowest class from the south of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland.”
These new immigrants, Wilson wrote, “had neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence,” and that these southern and eastern European countries “were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population.”
Then, a writer at Norway’s newspaper, Aftenposten, pointed out the ironic fact that beginning two hundred years ago, Norway sent its poor to the U.S., and that “fully one-third of Norway’s population left to start new lives in America,” and that these were “poor, toothless fishermen, and peasants.”
Those words describe my paternal great-grandparents, Ben and Martha (Larsen) Berentsen, who came to America in 1888, he from Tromso, and she from Oslo. They farmed first at Sioux Rapids, Iowa; then at Niobrara, Nebraska; and then in 1910, they moved for a final time to northeast Colorado, where they built a sod house and barely survived, becoming “poor, toothless peasants” here.
A hundred plus years and four generations later, their heirs have advanced above peasant status.
Two hundred years ago, “Norway might have been on the president’s so-called manure pile,” writes Andrew Dam, a Washington Post columnist, because “the Norwegians arrived in the U.S. with the lowest earning potential of any national group, due to their rural work in farming, fishing and logging.”
Now the Norwegians are idealized, but they were not the “fast-assimilating group” that others would want you to believe. Assimilation for any group, Dam writes, is a “difficult and gradual process.”
Dam further writes, “Norwegian Americans are doing well, but perhaps not as well as those in Norway.” Today, the Norwegians are rich, because of their North Sea oil. As a result, Norway has the largest sovereign wealth fund of any country in the world, equal to one trillion in U.S. dollars.
Also, Norway ranks first on the United Nations’s 2017 World Happiness Report, based on “real GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption,” plus the best in “education, health care, and good governance.”
Is it any wonder that only 502 Norwegians chose to migrate to the U.S. in 2016? “Sorry, Mr. Trump,” the Norwegians might say, “we pass. We prefer our own country.”
Here is another ironic fact that few have dared to point out. Donald Trump’s current wife, his third, Melania, is an immigrant from Slovenia, a country in south and east Europe, the same region that Woodrow Wilson said its people lacked skill, energy, initiative, or quick intelligence.
Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, said that “Melania came to the U.S. on a visitor visa and then earned money as a model, before she was authorized to work,” the same legal loophole that President Trump wants to stop.