Ministers flocked to election rally

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NEWS ANALYSIS: The sheer turnout at a large US election rally in Norway, and all the well-known Norwegian faces in the crowd on Tuesday evening, showed just how important the US really is to Norway. At least four government ministers and many other top politicians were among the roughly 1,200 people who packed the event at a local college, even though no election result would emerge until the next morning and it wasn’t due to be well-received.

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen wasn't the only top Norwegian government official who took time to mingle at a US Election Night rally in Oslo on Tuesday. He and several others all spoke glowingly about how the US is Norway's most important ally on everything from economic issues to defense. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen wasn’t the only top Norwegian government official who took time to mingle and even speak at a US Election Night rally in Oslo on Tuesday. He and several others all spoke glowingly about how the US is Norway’s most important ally on everything from economic issues to defense. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The US Election Night 2016 gathering at the Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus (HiOA) was organized by, among others, the US Embassy, the American Chamber of Commerce in Norway, Democrats and Republicans Abroad and various other commercial sponsors. It drew a “record capacity” crowd, acording to the chamber, of expatriate Americans living in Norway but many Norwegians as well, in fairly powerful positions. They listened to speeches, took part in panel discussions and a quiz, and simply ate, drank and mingled.

Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen was among the first to speak, commenting on how high interest was in the US elections and joking how Norway allegedly had a “record number of election experts” in the country, “3 million of them.” Why does Norway have so many US election experts? “Because of the sheer importance of it,” Isaksen said.

Flags and balloons decorated a hall at the Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus, which hosted the US Election Night festivities. The rector of the school, called the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, is also an American, Curt Rice. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Flags and balloons decorated a hall at the Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus, which hosted the US Election Night festivities. The rector of the school, called the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in English, is also an American, Curt Rice. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The US election campaign received massive media attention in Norway for months on end, almost as much as a Norwegian national election, and likely cost local media outets much more. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has had three full-time correspondents covering the campaign and sent more over for coverage of the election itself, as did the national commercial station TV2. Newspapers and their websites have also devoted huge amounts of space to stories on candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, while few Americans in Norway have avoided lots of questions from Norwegian colleagues and friends.

Musing on why a US election, especially this year’s, commands so much interest, Isaksen noted that “the democracy in the US is so much more vibrant.” Everything, he noted, “is bigger in the US,” and he called the US election “a celebration of democracy” despite the bitter words exchanged during the campaign.

Isaksen was far from the only otherwise busy government ministers to make time to attend the US election rally. Vidar Helgesen, the former EU Minister who now serves as Climate and Environment Minister, was there, as was Jan Tore Sanner, the minister in charge of municipalities and administration. Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen, also speaking to the crowd in English as flawless as Isaksen’s, took the stage around 10:30pm, noting how the US “is still so much a part of our history, such a part of our safety and security.” Solvik-Olsen has made no secret of his enthusiasm for the US, has, like Isaksen, lived in the US, and travels there relatively often.

There was considerable anxiety among all in attendance, though, because of the nature of the hostile campaign and what one former president of the Norwegian Parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland, called the “extremist” views of Republican candidate Donald J Trump. Jagland, now secretary general of the Council of Europe, made no secret of his preference for Hillary Clinton. While hosting Prime Minister Erna Solberg during a visit to the council’s base in Strasbourg on Monday, Jagland denounced how Trump had questioned the very legitimacy of the US election itself, “and that undermines the entire system,” Jagland told TV2. “That’s extreme.”

‘Scared, angry, sad, disappointed’
Trump was certainly not questioning the results of the election he’d claimed was “rigged” when he eventually won it in the early morning hours of Wednesday. Many Norwegians claimed Tuesday night that the prospect of such a victory had “scared” them, as it did many Americans as well. A recent YouGov public opinion poll reported by newspaper Aftenposten had reported that fully 80 percent of Norwegians thought Trump would be a bad president. That was in line with the opinions of a majority of other Europeans. While Europeans have deep splits amongst themselves, Aftenposten noted, they largely agree on American politics. Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Finns, the French, Germans and Brits used words like “scared, angry, sad” and “disappointed” at the thought of Trump as president. The portion of those who said they’d be “glad” or “relieved” if Trump won amounted to between just 1 and 5 percent. In Portugal, 85 percent supported Clinton against 5 percent for Trump. Only the Russians preferred Trump to Clinton.

US Ambassador Sam Heins was unsure about his own future when confronted by an NRK reporter Wednesday morning. He'll probably lose his post when Donald J Trump takes over as US President in January, meaning that the embassy may be without an ambassador again, also when it moves to its new embassy compound next year. Then it will be up to Trump to appoint his own ambassador, likely someone who contributed actively to his campaign. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

US Ambassador Sam Heins was unsure about his own future when confronted by an NRK reporter Wednesday morning. He’ll probably lose his post when Donald J Trump takes over as US President in January, meaning that the embassy may be without an ambassador again, also when it moves to its new embassy compound next year. Then it will be up to Trump to appoint his own ambassador, likely someone who contributed actively to his campaign. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

As top Norwegian politicians mingled with the crowd on Election Night, there was one man who will perhaps be the most directly affected by Trump’s victory and Clinton’s loss than anyone else. US Ambassador Sam Heins finally arrived in Oslo just last spring, after seeing his nomination by US President Barack Obama held up by disgruntled Republicans in the Congress. Heins’ tenure in Norway will now likely be very short, since he’ll be expected to resign when Obama leaves office on January 20.

“I think I have a regular job until then,” Heins told state broadcaster NRK Wednesday morning after Trump’s victory seemed assured but Clinton had not yet conceded. Asked whether he would lose his job, Heins responded “I don’t know.” When pressed, the prominent lawyer from Minnesota who also has set up his own human rights foundation, replied “We’ll see what happens.” The night before, he’d stood before the crowd and recited the poem that forms the lyrics of America the Beautiful. The next morning, he was tight-lipped indeed.

“One thing is important,” Heins told NRK. “The relationship between Norway and the US is tremendously strong.” He called Norway “a great ally” and said that relationship “is not going to go anywhere.” Norway and the US, Heins was convinced, “will remain very strong friends and allies,” no matter who’s living in the White House.

The embassy later released a statement by the ambassador that reads as follows:

“There is no closer friendship than that between the Kingdom of Norway and the United States of America. Ours is an alliance based on shared values and heritage and a profound commitment to democracy, freedom and respect for all peoples. As we transition to a new US administration following our presidential elections, we at the Embassy will dedicate ourselves to introducing incoming US officials to their valuable partners in Norway’s government and civil society. I could not be more proud of the work of our career Embassy professionals, who will remain steadfast in advancing this extraordinary relationship, which will long endure.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund