Trump asked Exxon for money. Period.

Trump has long preferred a mob-like form of communication which lives and dies on plausible deniability. He employed it masterfully last night in Arizona.

“All I have to do is call up the head of every Wall Street firm, head of every major company, the head of every major energy company, ‘Do me a favor, send me $10 million for my campaign.’ ‘Yes, sir.’ They say the only thing is, ‘Why didn't you ask for more, sir?’

-President Donald Trump, October 19, 2020.

As we head into the final stretch of the election, former Vice President Joe Biden is out-raising his opponent. The August reporting cycle saw Biden bring in $531 million, while President Donald Trump only brought in $476 million. Biden also brought in $383 million in the September reporting cycle, while Trump only brought in $248 million. Biden has more cash on hand than Trump does at this point, too: $432 million versus $251 million. Trump, clearly, is not happy about this—which is why yesterday, at a campaign rally in Arizona, he sent out an S.O.S. call directly to the fossil fuel industry.

“If you want me to win,” it read, “you’re going to have to pony up.”

It wasn’t a direct call. It never is. That’s not how Trump operates. If we’ve learned anything from the last four years of this presidency, it should be that you don’t need to say the n-word to communicate you’re a racist; you don’t need to say the f-word to communicate you’re a homophobe, and you don’t need to say “climate change is a hoax” to communicate you’re a climate change denier. There are subtler, more effective ways to convey your most despicable positions and desires. Trump and his supporters have long employed this particular mob-like form of communication, which lives and dies on plausible deniability. I never said I’d break that guy’s legs if he didn’t give me money. All I said was, it’d sure be awful if someone broke that guy’s legs.

I think a lot about how the Trump administration has achieved silence on climate change at U.S. environmental agencies. No one explicitly told all the career scientists and employees at the EPA and the Department of Interior to stop talking about climate change. The Trump administration simply put vocal climate change deniers at the top of those agencies, and started firing and re-assigning people who just so happened to do lots of climate work. Thus, fearing retaliation, career scientists and employees chose to censor themselves. I never said you’ll be fired if you continue climate work. All I said was, it’d sure be awful if you ended up like Maria Caffrey.

Trump didn’t directly say he needs an influx of money from the fossil fuel industry last night. All he said was, he could totally get the fossil fuel industry to give him more money if he wanted to. “Don't forget, I'm not bad at that stuff anyway, and I'm president,” he said. “So I call some guy, the head of Exxon. I call the head of Exxon. I don't know.” He speculated what this hypothetical conversation would look like—and it looks like a lot like bribery. “‘How are you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits?’ When I call the head of Exxon I say, ‘You know, I'd love [for you] to send me $25 million for the campaign.’” And what does the head of Exxon say? “‘Absolutely, sir.’”

Even this hypothetical conversation employs the plausible deniability tactic. I never said I’d only give Exxon their imaginary permits if they gave me $25 million. All I said was, I could really use $25 million. And Trump knows how well this tactic works. “I will hit a home run every single call,” he said. “I would raise a billion dollars in one day if I wanted to.

But Trump also know it only works if he can deny he said what he actually meant. Which is why he added: “I don't want to do that.” And Exxon—the true master of plausible deniability—joined the chorus. After Trump’s comments, the company made sure we all knew that the CEO never actually talked to the president. He never actually asked them for money.

But the conversation did happen—right there, on that stage in Arizona, for everyone to see. This type of thing shouldn’t fool anyone anymore. At this point, everyone should know what Trump was asking, why he was asking for it, and who he was asking it from. Either the next president is going to break the fossil fuel industry’s legs, or they’re going to break ours. Stay naive and end up on crutches.

Further reading:

  • Exxon denies Trump called CEO for money. But Big Oil is donating way more to Trump than Biden. CNN reports, “Trump is crushing Joe Biden in campaign donations from the embattled oil-and-gas industry. The president and outside groups aligned with him have raised nearly $13 million from individuals at oil-and-gas companies, according to OpenSecrets, a research group that tracks money in politics. That easily dwarfs the $976,000 the industry has sent to Biden.” (It should be noted these are individual donations, though, and don’t include dark money groups which don’t disclose donors).

  • Trump’s biggest oil and gas donors. E&E News reports, “Among Trump's biggest financial backers in the oil and gas world is Kelcy Warren, the chairman of pipeline giant Energy Transfer LP and its CEO until earlier this month. Warren cut a $10 million check to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, in August; gave the president's campaign $720,000 with his wife, Amy, last year; and held a fundraiser for Trump at his Dallas home this summer.

  • ‘Climate donors’ flock to Biden to counter Trump’s fossil fuel money. The New York Times reports, “Mr. Biden has raised more than $15 million in candidate contributions from hundreds of new donors who specifically identify with climate change as a cause.”

Support HEATED's climate journalism

All We Can Save book club: Week 3

Today’s the third official day of HEATED’s book club partnership with All We Can Save, an anthology of female climate wisdom edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson.

I hope your discussion “circles” are going well. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “circles,” you can find more about those here). If you’re not in a circle, don’t fret—the discussion questions I send around each week are totally fine to ponder alone, or you can share your thoughts in the comments.

If you’d like to sign up to lead a circle—or if you’re already a circle leader and would like more to receive supplementary materials directly from Ayana and Katharine—click here.

The section we’re focusing on this week is “Advocate.” This section features essays from badass climate women like Abigail Dillen, Mary Anne Hitt, Maggie Thomas, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright. You can learn more about them and all the section’s authors in the supplementary materials section below.

How to structure this week’s discussion


Read “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy (p. 60).


Share your name + a body posture or movement that expresses your mood. (Circle leader should go first and model this.)


Move through 3 generous questions.

  1. How do you want to be of use in the climate movement/for a life-giving future?

  2. What insights in this section challenge your thinking about what we need to or can do?

  3. What do you see that’s working to foster more, deeper democracy?

Bonus Q (if applicable): Do you have a plan to vote? (See voting resources below.)


Read 1 poem or quote from this section to close.

Illustration by Madeleine Jubilee Saito
Illustration by Madeleine Jubilee Saito

Additional reading/listening/watching materials for "Advocate"

Abigail Dillen

Marge Piercy

Mary Anne Hitt

Heather McTeer Toney

Joy Harjo

Maggie Thomas

Rhiana Gunn-Wright


For info on how, when, and where to vote in the U.S., visit For info on candidates’ climate records, see Find the Sierra Club’s endorsements here.

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Stay hydrated, eat plants (I like bananas), do push-ups, and have a great day!