As the sun sets on US President Donald Trump’s presidency, the chilling events of January 6, when his supporters stormed the US Capitol, continue to hang over his departure. But there is no denying that Trump will be remembered for many other moments.
Some of them were historic, unprecedented and, in many cases, completely bizarre. Americans will remember his public suggestion that COVID-19 could possibly be knocked out by injecting disinfectant in the human body or the time he tweeted out the word “covfefe” (still no explanation of what he meant). But there were many other unusual and awkward moments.
Here are 11 things you may have forgotten about:
In the opening months of his presidency, Trump seized on his popularity and held rallies to keep his base fired up. One of those events was in Melbourne, Florida in February 2017. The audience got the show they wanted complete with Air Force One pulling up to the rally. But like so often during his tenure, Trump’s words at home rattled a nation thousands of miles away.
During a tirade against illegal migrants, Trump hinted there may have been a terrorist attack in Sweden the previous night. “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” Trump exclaimed. “Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden!”
No. Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There has not ben any terrorist attacks here. At all. The main news right now is about Melfest. ->
— @sweden (@sweden) February 19, 2017
One tiny problem with his claim: there was no such attack. The remarks reportedly prompted a confused call from the Swedish embassy to the US State Department asking for clarification. Swedes, on the other hand, ran with it and the humorous hashtag #lastnightinSweden was born showing locals doing things like making moose stew or practising the trombone.
Perfect piece of chocolate cake
It was his first bilateral summit as president and there was no better place to hold it than Trump’s luxury Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida in April 2017. The US president welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two smiled and waved to cameras to quell some of the tensions that had been building ever since Trump ran for office and accused Beijing of unfair trade practices. But during the summit, another country, Syria, was also dominating the news as pictures of a chemical attack by government forces against civilians in Khan Shaykhun angered people around the world.
As Trump and Xi dined, the president gave the order to destroy a Syrian airbase with Tomahawk missiles to send a message to President Bashar al-Assad. But when he recalled the moment to a Fox Business anchor, the commander-in-chief seemed focused on the wrong details.
“We had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it,” he recounted intently. “So what happens is I said [to President Xi] we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this.”
That beautiful piece of cake must have been pretty good because the US President forgot he had bombed Syria, not Iraq.
Normally, a NATO meeting is a formulaic gathering of military allies who send out boring communiques and reaffirm their relationships and commitments. But when Donald Trump is present, nothing is normal.
In May 2017, Trump had everyone wondering how he would behave at his first NATO meeting with world leaders in Brussels. After all, he had trashed the organisation during his campaign, referring to it as “obsolete”. Predictably, Trump criticised them again during the meeting demanding members pay their fair share to the organisation set up in 1949 to counter the growing Soviet influence in Europe. But that speech, which upset many people in the foreign policy ranks, was not his true mark that day.
As world leaders gathered for the official photo, Trump was caught shoving aside Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic in what appeared to be an attempt to get to the front of the photo line. At the time, the Balkan country was seeking entry into NATO, a move that the Russian government opposed, so the snub took on a particularly dire tone among Montenegrins. The prime minister was unfazed, however, later telling reporters the shove seen around the world was overblown.
The paper towel launch
A natural disaster is a devastating, horrific event that often tests the human spirit in unexpected ways. But it is also a good time for a president to get positive press by showing compassion and kindness in the aftermath. It is a ratings boost, if you will, in Donald J Trump terms. So when powerful, category-four Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, it was a moment for the US president to earn some political points.
Hundreds had died, thousands were homeless and many more were without power. Almost two weeks later, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump made the trip to San Juan to survey the damage. Trump spoke to emergency management officials, victims and visited some of the devastation. But then he did something that may be the only thing people remember about that trip.
As he visited a church, he decided to help out by distributing supplies. As the cameras rolled, the president began tossing paper towels up in the air to victims as if they were raffle winners at the Iowa state fair. San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz would later slam the president’s actions as, “terrible and abominable” saying it showed he cared little for the people who lived there.
Trump salutes an enemy’s general
Trump’s love affair with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could go down as one of his lasting foreign policy legacies. He was the first sitting US president to meet with a North Korean leader, a noteworthy feat considering the two countries have no formal diplomatic relations. The two men had initially threatened each other, with the US president referring to Kim as “Rocket Man”, in reference to his penchant for missile launches. The North Koreans returned the barb by calling Trump a “dotard”. Eventually, though, the two leaders held summits in Singapore and Vietnam to hash out their differences.
In June 2018, during their first meeting in Singapore, however, Trump made a different kind of history. North Korean state media caught the president taking the unprecedented step of saluting one of Kim’s generals. It is unusual for an American president to salute any foreign military leader but saluting the general of a sworn enemy of the US is, well, strange. Prominent Democrats back home noted, at the time, the move would be used by Pyongyang in propaganda videos, which it was.
Trump’s calls a porn star “Horseface”
A US president is the most sought after world leader. Powerful CEOs, celebrities, prime ministers, royals and everyone else scramble for his attention. So, it would seem that someone in that position would not have the time, or the interest, in trolling a porn star. But that is what happened in October 2018 when Trump put aside congressional negotiations and policy papers to lash out at Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) via Twitter over a defamation lawsuit.
Months earlier, a magazine article surfaced in which Daniels said she slept with him in 2006 after Melania Trump gave birth to their son, Barron. There were also allegations that he paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about the affair (Trump initially denied, but later confirmed the payment). That interview fuelled a salacious and embarrassing public battle culminating in the Texas defamation suit filed by Daniels against the American leader.
When a judge dismissed it, Trump pounced. “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas,” he celebrated on Twitter. Daniels was undeterred, retaliating via tweet, in an apparent reference to a certain, um, anatomical deficiency, “Game on, Tiny.”
The Santa call
Collman Lloyd got the phone call of a lifetime on December 24, 2018. The president of the United States wanted to wish the seven-year-old girl a Merry Christmas. But what would normally be a dream call on the biggest night of the year for any Christmas-obsessed kid eventually took a peculiar turn.
After some chit-chat next to the White House fireplace, TV cameras caught the president asking the South Carolinian a question. “Are you still a believer in Santa?” he inquired. “Because at seven, it’s marginal, right?” The girl’s response, inaudible to reporters, made Trump chuckle, but horrified Santa-loving parents around the country. One would think the man who gets classified briefings every day could, at least, keep the Santa info on the down-low.
The night of fast food
Imagine you get an invite to the White House to dine with the US president. It is an honour reserved for very few people. You dress up, you are on your best behaviour, hoping to sit in the state dining room where celebrities, world leaders and giants of history have shared the same honour. You arrive and are awestruck by the most famous house on the planet. Eventually, the president enters and so does the main course … Filet-O-Fish and Big Macs?
That is what happened when the Clemson Tigers, winners of the college football championship, came to the White House in January 2019.
“We have pizzas, we have 300 hamburgers, many, many french fries, all of our favourite foods,” Trump boasted to reporters as an array of culinary delights from restaurant chains KFC, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King sat in front of him on silver platters. Trump told them he had no choice and the fast food, getting colder and colder with every word he spoke, was the result of a partial government shutdown that forced the closure of the White House kitchen.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would later say the president paid for the meal himself which is perhaps why Taco Bell’s pricey Double Steak Melt Deluxe box was not on the menu.
Greenland’s for sale?
It sounds like the beginning of a joke: the US president wants to buy Greenland. Whispers about the strange request started trickling out in August, 2019. However, after a Wall Street Journal story cited sources saying it was true, once again, Trump found himself in the middle of an awkward quarrel with a close NATO ally. This time, it was Denmark, the kingdom that oversees the northern territory.
“Essentially, it’s a large real estate deal,” the businessman-president confirmed to reporters after much speculation. He also suggested it would give the US a strategic advantage in the Arctic. Still, the Danish government was not impressed.
“Greenland is not for sale,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen shot back in an interview. “I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.” Trump would later call her response “nasty” but not before he cancelled a planned presidential trip to the Scandinavian country. And with that, the great Danish-American conflict of 2019 was finally over.
Trump’s spats with world leaders and Democrats were hallmarks of his four years in office. But his fondness for petty disputes often crept into the downright weird and in September 2019, that is exactly what happened.
As Hurricane Dorian approached the US, Trump tweeted that “South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama” would be affected. That was apparently news to people in Alabama who began preparing for the worst. But it also precipitated a stunned National Hurricane Center (NHC) to tweet that Alabama, “will NOT see any impacts from Dorian” which ultimately turned out to be true.
Unwilling to concede and frustrated by the rebuttal, Trump gathered reporters into the Oval Office three days later to explain why he made the prediction. As he spoke, he held up a NHC map from August that showed the projected path of the hurricane which ended in Florida. Someone, however, had apparently taken a Sharpie and doctored the map by extending the hurricane’s path into, you guessed it, Alabama. As puzzled reporters looked on, Trump motioned to, without a hint of humour, the map with the Sharpie line.
When later asked about who added it, Trump simply said, “I don’t know.” Historians will remember the moment as “SharpieGate”.
Home Alone 2
Before taking the oath of office, Trump’s fame was partly due to his reality TV show, The Apprentice. But he also loved making cameos in Hollywood films. One of those movies was 1992’s Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
The film’s producers probably never thought that cameo would cause an international incident years later when Canada’s national broadcaster, CBC, cut it for time from a holiday re-airing in December 2019.
Prompted by angry Trump supporters, the president’s son, Don Jr, took to Instagram accusing the CBC of being “absolutely pathetic”. President Trump later tweeted about the controversy joking that Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was behind the move because, “I guess Justin T doesn’t much like my making him pay up on NATO or Trade!”
In the wake of the January 6, 2021 riots at the US Capitol, Home Alone 2 star McCaulay Culkin endorsed internet calls to digitally remove Trump from the films.