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Buying Greenland is not the craziest or most offensive idea that Tom Cotton ever installed in the pliable brain of the vast ego wasteland that is Donald Trump.

There was singularly pulling out of the multinational Iran nuclear agreement to stoke Mideast fires irresponsibly. There was proposing to change legal immigration policies to accept smart and accomplished newcomers instead of needy ones from poor countries that the president ridiculed as bleep-holes.

Those Cottonisms implanted beneath the tightly sprayed presidential coiffure make a takeover of mostly uninhabited expanse between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans seem by comparison rather reasonable.

As Cotton points out, Harry Truman offered 100 million 1946 dollars to Denmark for this island, the world's largest. He thought it offered strategic aid to the United States with the Cold War emerging. China recently made a revealing if denied run at placing military installations there, which would be bad for the U.S. and world.

So, it's far from nuts for Our Boy Tom to have planted the idea with Trump and then broached it in a private conversation with the Danish ambassador. And it's far from abnormal that Trump's interest leaked--Washington being Washington, after all--and allowed all of us to know what might have been a mostly idle private conversation leading to a mere concept the president was having studied.

The negative critique of Cotton and Trump that I glean from the Greenland episode is that it reveals again the folly of this testosterone-driven alpha-wolf American attitude that Cotton and Trump want to install under the guise of putting America first.

The tactically smart approach to the nation's greater interests amid world challenges is to work openly and cooperatively with friends, not to propose that we big-dog it alone.

Big-dogging it alone alienates everybody.

More serious and damaging domestically and internationally is this lone-wolf spraying of excess testosterone on the trade issue, up to and including a frightful escalation of economic and rhetorical warfare.

China is a powerful economic force with which we have a pragmatically interdependent balance of interest. The Chinese need our money, we benefit from their cheap production; we need to sell rice, they like rice; we need to float some notes, they need to buy some.

That's not to say the relationship is healthy and shouldn't or can't be touched. It's to say the relationship is delicately vital and can best be changed by alliance with like-minded friends in quiet and careful negotiation.

Forgive the utter simplicity of the following, but apparently it needs to be said: Trade is the full opposite of a unilateral action. Trade takes two or more. You must come to mutually acceptable terms.

You don't see the bigger New York Yankees announcing they're trading a Double-A backup catcher to whomever the heck they want from the small-market Kansas City Royals' big-league roster.

Yet we are infested with this raging man-child of a president who conducts international negotiations on Twitter and by despotic dicta through which he presumes singularly to command American businesses to cease all relationships with China.

International trade, like intelligence-gathering for defense, is an area in which real-time government transparency is ill-advised, even impossible. You cannot advance vital and delicate negotiations by bellowing your bellicosity.

What you ought to do is bring in your pals--Denmark, for example, and many others--and work with the Chinese on mutually agreeable reforms that you then share with the American people for their consideration and acquiescence.

And acquiescence is the right word. International trade is a field in which you're not likely to agree happily. It's one in which you must settle with pinched nose for what you can get reasonably and securely.

The Cotton-Trump approach is lone-wolf arrogance. It's getting a wild hair to buy Greenland because we think we know better than Denmark. It's having a president who either thinks he can bully a bully or is incapable emotionally of behaving any other way.

Cotton almost did the right thing on Greenland by privately putting the bug in the presidential ear. But it is not one lone senator's place to advance the issue with a Danish official, just as it wasn't Cotton's place to send Iran a letter advising that any nuclear deal it would make with Barack Obama would be soon undone.

Trump's failing was not that he listened to Cotton and assigned people to look at the idea. It was huffing and puffing when the Danish prime minister called the idea "absurd." It was canceling a meeting because the big American dog did not like that a little lapdog presumed to bark back.

Obama always believed the lead dog did not need to have the biggest bark.

Trump and Cotton want America to have the size of a Great Dane and the noisemaking personality of a basso Chihuahua.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 08/27/2019


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Archived Comments

  • 23cal
    August 27, 2019 at 10:21 a.m.

    Good one.

  • malice06220956
    August 27, 2019 at 11:39 a.m.

    Thank goodness we have the brilliance of Mr. Brummett to enlighten those of us in right wing land. I'm sure Mr. Brummett has vast experience, along with his pithy insults, in managing corporations and developments.