WASHINGTON — It’s been a fortnight of, well, weirder stuff even than usual from the Trump administration.
You know we’re on new turf when people don’t even blink twice at hearing that a pornographic-film star is suing the president to be able to talk about and potentially document what she says was their affair in 2006 and 2007 because Donald Trump failed to sign a nondisclosure agreement. She was paid $130,000 not to talk by Trump’s lawyer 12 days before Trump’s election. Trump denies “all allegations.”
After cutting housing subsidies for the poor, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson ordered a $31,000 dining room set for his office. After the predictable uproar, the retired brain surgeon said he was sending the furniture back, adding that government work is a lot more complicated than brain surgery. Really?
When Trump’s longtime aide Hope Hicks announced her resignation as White House communications director, having admitted she sometimes told “white lies,” Trump was so angry he abruptly declared he’d impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. This set off global fears of a debilitating trade war, stunned free-trading Republicans, alarmed domestic manufacturers that costs will rise and jobs will be in peril and caused his economic adviser to resign in frustration. That is the 49th major departure from the administration.
Trump complains the World Trade Organization “makes it almost impossible for us to do good business. We lose the cases, we don’t have the judges.” In fact, the U.S. has won 85.7 percent of the cases it initiated before the WTO since 1995. When the U.S. is sued by other countries, it wins 25 percent of the time. The European Union and Japan have never won a case brought against them. The global average is 16.6 percent.
One more snippet about Trump’s trade turmoil. Just before Trump announced his tariffs, one of his best friends, billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who briefly was in charge of getting rid of regulations big business doesn’t like, sold $31 million in steel-related stock that then plunged 5 percent in value after Trump said he will impose a 25 percent tariff on steel. Icahn denied any suggestion of insider trading.
Oh yes. Trump says tariffs will be imposed “in a very loving way.”
Next we started talking about the revelation that one of Trump’s international golf courses ordered replicas of the presidential seal as tee markers. Government ethics officials (the few who are left) winced. Use of the presidential seal for anything other than official White House business is not permitted.
That was quickly overshadowed by New Yorker magazine, which claimed former British spy Christopher Steele found evidence that Russia prevented former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney from being nominated by Trump to serve as secretary of state. Romney argues that Russia is the biggest U.S. enemy. Trump then nominated Rex Tillerson, who was personally honored by Russia when he ran ExxonMobil.
But we stopped talking about that almost immediately because it was revealed that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm got $500 million in loans from Citigroup and private equity firm Apollo after a White House meeting with Kushner.
Speaking of the Kushners, why did the White House approve a blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates after Qatar refused a loan to the Kushners? How interesting that the United States would go against its own interests by encouraging more turmoil among Persian Gulf states.
Before we could properly pronounce “Qatar,” we were informed that the Trump administration will no longer ban the importation of elephant hunting trophies, such as ivory tusks, from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Stay with me here — this came after Trump said the ban would remain because killing the dwindling population of elephants is a “horror show.” But that was then. This is now — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review each import on a “case by case basis” rather than issue a properly vetted ban. And permit lion and bontebok trophies. (Trump’s sons Eric and Don and Interior Secretary Rick Zinke are enthusiastic hunters.)
Exhausted? White House press secretary Sarah Sanders promises more of the same. “This administration has done great things. We will continue to do so.” Chaos and turnover? Sanders: “It’s not abnormal.”
Yes, it is. But Trump assures us he thrives on conflict.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.