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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Calmes: Trump’s oil pitch deserves notice

By Jackie Calmes
Published: May 24, 2024, 6:01am

What better sign could there be that we’re drowning in political outrage, that we’re inured to it, than this:

A national newspaper scooped this month that Donald Trump gathered about two dozen oil industry executives for a chopped steak dinner at his Mar-a-Lago playground and suggested “a deal”: They should raise $1 billion for his presidential campaign because, once reelected, he’d slash their taxes and federal regulations and, as he’d said many times before, let them “drill, baby, drill.”

That story came and went, with little commentary or follow-up in the news media.

After all, there was the first criminal trial of a current or former president to cover in Manhattan. Or new polls on the 2024 presidential horse race. Or Justice Clarence Thomas’ bellyaching about criticism of his ethical trespasses.

But back to the oily story about oil money.

That was $1 billion, with a B, that Trump sought, according to the Washington Post. And he was soliciting that sum from energy honchos for what he considers due compensation for his plans, if elected, to wipe out President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda.

Yet this roundtable of plutocrats and the once and perhaps future president was essentially a one-day story, as journalists say.

Later generations will wonder at our general complacency about global warming, as they’re contending with the costly consequences and natural disasters we’ve only begun to experience. By then, the rising waters already eroding Florida’s coastline perhaps will have swamped Mar-a-Lago. And Trump, who prattles on about draining the swamp but in fact is the master of it, will be history.

It was reportedly near the end of dinner when Trump told his guests that they should help him catch up with Biden in the campaign money chase. To underscore this less-than-subtle shakedown, the head of Trump’s main super PAC was among the attendees.

The disgraced former president told the diners that his second-term policies — “on Day 1” — would make for a good return on their investment: An immediate end to the Biden administration’s freeze on permits for new terminals to export liquefied natural gas. (“You’ll get it on the first day.”) No more restrictions on drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. New leases to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Trump even dangled things the energy moguls don’t care that much about. He ranted, as he does routinely in his stream-of-consciousness MAGA rally performances, about scrapping federal incentives for wind power and electric vehicles.

Yes, both political parties take in huge hauls from special interests, much of it dark money. And Biden is leading Trump in the cash contest, if not the battleground state polls. Yet Trump is uniquely and brazenly transactional, grasping and explicit about quid pro quos.

It’s not as if the oil barons are hurting under Biden. They must know Trump is lying when he talks about “Joe Biden’s war on American energy.” U.S. oil production is setting records and industry profits are gushing. Despite Biden’s moratorium on permits for export terminals, the nation leads the world in natural gas exports and has enough permitted construction underway to double capacity.

In fairness to the industry, most of its chieftains aren’t pressing to repeal Biden’s landmark clean energy law, as Trump and many congressional Republicans call for. For one thing, the law includes tax credits that benefit their companies.

Even without Trump’s obscene ask, the nation’s oil, gas and coal tycoons would likely be opening their wallets for him. They’re almost uniformly Republicans, as industry leaders have been for many decades, allergic to the taxes and regulations that Democrats generally favor. Still, I’d like to think that at least some of those moguls at Trump’s table last month felt the need to retire to their gilt-trimmed rooms at Mar-a-Lago for a long, hot shower.

Remember, the scandal a century ago that became synonymous with Washington corruption — Teapot Dome — was about oil bribes. But, as has often been said about campaign finance, these days it’s not what’s illegal that’s the problem; it’s what’s legal.

Even so, Trump’s unethical actions should shock. For more than one day.

Jackie Calmes is an opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Times in Washington, D.C.