Samuel D Heins has only been the US’ ambassador to Norway since last spring and now, since the election of a new president, he’s confirmed that he’s expected to resign “as of noon on the 2oth of January” (Inauguration Day). Until then, however, Heins seems determined to reassure nervous Norwegians that they can still rely on their most important ally.
“America is America, with fundamental values, many of which we share with Norway,” Heins said while appearing on one of Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s popular talk shows, hosted by veteran journalist Ole Torp. Heins made it clear that the US will endure, also under the presidency of Donald J Trump.
Ambassadors in Norway rarely step into the public spotlight themselves, and the mild-mannered Heins hesitated at times before answering Torp’s questions about looming changes under a Trump administration. Heins is clearly aware, however, of Norwegians’ enormous interest in the recent US election and their concerns about its result. Trump’s victory has even raised fears regarding such areas as defense, the climate and trade. On Thursday, Norway’s national employers’ organization NHO continued the discussion of what Trump’s election will mean for Norway, this times in terms of Norwegian business and trade. Heins, in his appearance on national TV, delivered the message that he sees no reason for fear.
“The institutions set up by the US’ founding fathers are strong and resilient,” Heins said. The US’ system of “checks and balances,” he noted, will click in. As many other political commentators have predicted, Trump likely won’t be able to carry out many of the rash declarations he made during the campaign, and he’s already dropping his threats to prosecute his opponent Hillary Clinton and scrap Obama’s health care program.
Trump’s election not only stunned Norwegians and much of the rest of the world, it had personal implications for Heins. He was appointed by US President Barack Obama following his years of support for Obama’s Democratic Party and Obama himself. If the US’ Democratic candidate Clinton had won, she may well have asked Heins to say on, as a politically appointed ambassador representing the president, at least until Clinton felt a need to replace him with one of her own campaign supporters.
Now Heins is expected to resign, in line with US protocol, to allow Trump to appoint one of his own supporters. Heins was not among them, and candidly admitted on NRK that he would find it “difficult” and “challenging” to represent some of Trump’s views and policies.
If Trump moves forward, for example, with his campaign declarations that he intends to deport as many as 3 million illegal aliens, “it would be difficult to explain that to my Norwegian friends,” Heins said, adding that such mass deportation was something “I could not in good conscience be part of.”
At the same time, Heins noted that Obama didn’t manage to fulfill all his campaign promises either, like closing the Guantanamo military prison, despite concerted efforts. “Campaigning is one thing,” said Heins, who’s been involved in many himself in his home state of Minnesota. “Governing is something else.”
Minnesota survived under a professional wrestler
Heins recalled a memorable campaign for the governor of Minnesota, when two established political candidates including Hubert Humphrey III were suddenly confronted with the candidacy of flamboyant professional wrestler and Vietnam veteran Jesse Ventura, who represented the small Reform Party. “It was a candidacy we saw as a bit of a sideshow,” Heins said, but Ventura won, in much the same manner as Trump, by urging voters to reject the status quo and not vote for conventional candidates.
Minnesota survived. “The state didn’t fall apart,” Heins said with a smile. “The system was strong.” Ventura carried out his four-year term, from 1999 to 2003, when he decided not to run for re-election.
Asked whether Trump can change from being a loud-mouthed candidate who offended many women and ethnic groups to becoming a respected leader, Heins answered “I don’t know.” Those were three words Heins repeated several times under Torp’s questioning about “what kind of America are we going to get now,” but the ambassador stressed that “it’s incumbent upon the rest of us in the democracy to speak out” at the sign of any infractions or threats to the democracy. “Eternal vigilance” is needed, he said, to protect it.
“I have a wonderful sense of comfort in the institutions of our country,” Heins said. “I’m optimistic.” Norwegians may do well to be the same.