The Fright House

Published by The Mail on Sunday (20th November, 2016)

IT HAS been a busy week for the Trump dy­nasty, holed up in their gaudy gilt palace on the 66th floor of a land­mark New York sky­scraper while they shape the team that seeks to change the world.

The Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter dropped by for a chat be­hind the huge di­a­mond and gold-en­crusted doors to the three-storey flat, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Ukip leader Nigel Farage who got there first to greet the man elected 45th Pres­i­dent of the United States.

There was a del­uge of calls from world lead­ers. All are des­per­ate to speak with the brash bil­lion­aire who has taken over the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion, sit­ting be­neath the crys­tal chan­de­liers in the home in which he an­nounced his shock run for the White House.

There was a del­uge of calls from world lead­ers. All are des­per­ate to speak with the brash bil­lion­aire who has taken over the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion, sit­ting be­neath the crys­tal chan­de­liers in the home in which he an­nounced his shock run for the White House.

And there was a fam­ily meal out at their favourite restau­rant, a for­mer speakeasy the Pres­i­den­t­elect once used for a scene when star­ring in The Ap­pren­tice. Beyond that, it has been full steam ahead on choos­ing ‘the great men and women who will be help­ing to MAKE AMER­ICA GREAT AGAIN!’, as Don­ald Trump told his 15.4mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers.

And now, as the names slowly emerge of these peo­ple, the world be­gins to get a glim­mer of how the most un­likely US Pres­i­dent in his­tory in­tends to gov­ern.

The good news is he seems to be stick­ing to cam­paign pledges, un­like more tra­di­tional politi­cians. But this means an ad­min­is­tra­tion headed by hard­line, na­tion­al­ist ad­vis­ers who share his dystopian view of the world and pro­tec­tion­ist stance on the econ­omy.

So his pick for at­tor­ney gen­eral is an anti-im­mi­gra­tion zealot once barred from serv­ing as a judge over racism con­cerns, while his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser is a com­bat­ive for­mer gen­eral who has ap­peared reg­u­larly on a Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda tele­vi­sion sta­tion.

Clearly he plans to turn the White House into the hard-Right House – or as Democrats may per­ceive it, the Fright House.

These alarm­ing ap­point­ments show the prop­erty mag­nate in­tends to over­haul the legacy of Barack Obama’s eight years in power and re­ward loy­al­ists who gam­bled early on a Trump tri­umph.

They also in­di­cate a de­ter­mi­na­tion to fol­low through his fiery, con­tro­ver­sial and frankly racist rhetoric on the cam­paign stump by over­throw­ing the Wash­ing­ton con­sen­sus on for­eign af­fairs when it comes to is­sues such as Is­lam, im­mi­gra­tion and the Rus­sian threat.

Mean­while, Trump has tried to clear aside one of the ma­jor con­tro­ver­sies that dogged him through his cam­paign by set­tling three law­suits for fraud over his Trump Univer­sity.

Trump had vowed to fight the chal­lenge from an­gry for­mer stu­dents who paid £28,000 for real es­tate ‘se­crets’ from sup­pos­edly ‘hand­picked’ ex­perts. One case was due to be heard later this month.

This long-run­ning saga of­fered a dis­turb­ing in­sight into the busi­ness prac­tices of the wealthy Pres­i­dent-elect, in which (de­spite prom­ises of his per­sonal in­volve­ment) the clos­est stu­dents got to Trump was pos­ing for pic­tures be­side a life-size pho­to­graph of the ty­coon.

The so-called univer­sity used high-pres­sure tac­tics fa­mil­iar to the time-share world. Ron­ald Sch­nack­en­berg, a for­mer sales­man, said in an af­fi­davit the set-up was de­signed purely to sell ex­pen­sive sem­i­nars rather than ful­fil pledges of of­fer­ing in­sight into prop­erty deal­ing.

‘Trump Univer­sity was a fraud­u­lent scheme,’ he de­clared. Sch­nack­en­berg tes­ti­fied that af­ter one hard-sell pre­sen­ta­tion he de­cided against sell­ing a £28,000 Elite pro­gramme to a dis­abled man in a pre­car­i­ous fi­nan­cial state. But in­stead of be­ing com­mended by his bosses, he was told off and another sales­man closed the deal.

When pressed ear­lier in the year about the al­le­ga­tions, Trump re­sponded: ‘I could set­tle it right now for very lit­tle money, but I don’t want to do it out of prin­ci­ple.’

Now he has set­tled hastily – and for the sub­stan­tial sum of £20.4 mil­lion. The deal en­sures Trump does not have to take time out from build­ing his team to run the coun­try in or­der to take the stand in a San Diego court and an­swer al­le­ga­tions of dis­hon­esty.

This would have been em­bar­rass­ing even for this self-ador­ing brag­gart who so clearly rev­els in pub­lic­ity – not un­like his pal Piers Mor­gan, who was given more time to talk to the Pres­i­dent-elect on the phone last week than our Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May.

‘I set­tled the Trump Univer­sity law­suit for a small frac­tion of the po­ten­tial award be­cause as Pres­i­dent I have to fo­cus on our coun­try,’ Trump tweeted yes­ter­day.

Clearly he in­tends to con­tinue pub­lic dis­course through so­cial me­dia, de­spite his el­e­va­tion from re­al­ity TV star to leader of the free world. This in­cludes feud­ing with crit­ics: first the ‘fail­ing’ New York Times and now the­atre­go­ers at hit Broad­way show ‘Hamil­ton’.

Yes­ter­day, he de­manded the cast of the mu­si­cal apol­o­gise for ha­rass­ing ‘our won­der­ful fu­ture VP’ af­ter Mike Pence, the man who will be Vice Pres­i­dent, was booed by mem­bers of the au­di­ence when at­tend­ing the show.

When the cur­tain came down, a cast mem­ber then urged Pence to up­hold ‘Amer­i­can val­ues’ and re­spect di­ver­sity. For Trump, it was an in­sult that could not go un­chal­lenged. ‘This should not hap­pen’ he thun­dered. ‘Apol­o­gise.’

Aside from this cir­cus, the fo­cus yes­ter­day was on the pres­i­den­tial team be­ing as­sem­bled in Trump Tower. It has at­tracted huge con­tro­versy from the start with the ap­point­ment of ul­tra-Right ide­o­logue Steve Ban­non as chief strate­gist, ac­cused of be­ing a white su­prem­a­cist.

Ini­tial ap­point­ments sug­gest an ad­min­is­tra­tion with stri­dent views on Is­lam and im­mi­gra­tion, along with ad­mi­ra­tion for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin that will lead to soft­en­ing of crit­i­cism over his blood­stained in­ter­ven­tions in Ukraine and Syria.

Omi­nously, Trump’s first call with a world leader was not with a trusted ally such as Bri­tain but with re­pres­sive Egyp­tian dic­ta­tor Ab­del al-Sisi. His re­cruits hail from out­side the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment, of­ten shunned for ex­treme views.

There are also, as crit­ics pointed out, three men called Michael in the first six ap­point­ments – but no women nor mem­bers of mi­nori­ties. Re­tired army lieu­tenant gen­eral Michael Flynn will be the most high-pro­file, of­fered the key post of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser af­ter ad­vis­ing Trump on for­eign af­fairs.

Flynn, a com­bat­ive for­mer in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive, was a reg­is­tered Demo­crat un­til last year – yet led chants call­ing for Hil­lary Clin­ton to be locked up at ral­lies. He uses in­flam­ma­tory lan­guage on Is­lam, like Trump, ig­nor­ing the Wash­ing­ton con­sen­sus that at­tack­ing the re­li­gion rather than ex­trem­ists boosts re­cruit­ment for ter­ror­ists.

Flynn has com­pared Is­lam to can­cer, called it a po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy dis­guised as re­li­gion and claimed ‘fear of Mus­lims is RA­TIO­NAL’ on Twit­ter. He seems to have found a soul­mate in Putin, ap­pear­ing of­ten on Rus­sian state TV and sit­ting two places from the Pres­i­dent at a gala din­ner for the sta­tion. His ap­proach to the Krem­lin re­flects his prospec­tive boss – but sends alarm through Wash­ing­ton.

Moscow has rev­elled in the US elec­tion re­sult, know­ing that hav­ing ‘use­ful id­iots’ in power will give greater free­dom to flex its mus­cles while weak­en­ing tra­di­tional West­ern al­liances.

Jeff Ses­sions, an Alabama se­na­tor of­fered the job of at­tor­ney gen­eral, was born in Selma – home to one of the most fa­mous civil rights in­ci­dents in US his­tory. Yet he is renowned for an un­com­pro­mis­ing stance on race.

As a young lawyer he was nom­i­nated by Ron­ald Rea­gan for a fed­eral judge­ship, then re­jected amid al­le­ga­tions he made racist re­marks. One wit­ness said Ses­sions claimed the Ku Klux Klan were ‘OK un­til I found out they smoked pot’.

Mike Pom­peo, the army vet­eran of­fered the post of CIA chief, is a more sober fig­ure. When tapes emerged dur­ing the cam­paign of Trump boast­ing about grop­ing women, the con­ser­va­tive con­gress­man rightly called them ‘hor­ri­ble, of­fen­sive and in­de­fen­si­ble’.  Yet he is also a hard­liner who backed wa­ter­board­ing of pris­on­ers and op­posed the clo­sure of Guan­tanamo Bay.

In one ap­par­ent olive branch to mod­er­ates, Trump was sched­uled yester- day to meet Mitt Rom­ney, the for­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and one of his fiercest crit­ics.

Rom­ney de­clared that ‘Don­ald Trump tells us he is very, very smart. I’m afraid that when it comes to for­eign pol­icy he is very, very not smart’ – yet there is spec­u­la­tion the pair are dis­cussing the post of Sec­re­tary of State.

There is in­tense con­cern over the cen­tral role be­ing played by Trump’s fam­ily in the sham­bolic tran­si­tion process. Both his daugh­ter Ivanka and Jared Kush­ner, the Pres­i­den­t­elect’s in­flu­en­tial son-in-law, bizarrely sat in on the meet­ing with Ja­pan’s Shinzo Abe.

Ivanka has been ac­cused of us­ing an in­ter­view to pro­mote a $10,000 bracelet that her jew­ellery com­pany sells. Kush­ner is thought to have knifed Chris Christie, the New Jersey gov­er­nor who orig­i­nally led Trump’s tran­si­tion team, in re­venge for his role in the jail­ing of Kush­ner’s fa­ther for tax eva­sion. Now Ken Black­well, who says gays can be ‘re­formed’, is on that same team.

Wel­come to the weird new world of Wash­ing­ton. A bil­lion­aire pop­ulist sits with his fam­ily in his gilded Ro­coco sky­scraper home, sum­mon­ing courtiers to cre­ate a new team at the top of the planet’s most pow­er­ful na­tion while the rest of the world looks on anx­iously.

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