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Axl Rose, Steven Mnuchin and the pandemic Twitter feud no one saw coming

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Al Drago/Bloomberg News), left, and Axl Rose (Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP).
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By all accounts, 2020 has been, to put it mildly, a weird year.

This week alone has already seen a 5-year-old boy from Utah attempt a solo drive to California on a mission to buy a Lamborghini, a llama named Winter emerge as a potential key player in the race for a treatment targeting the novel coronavirus, and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Canadian singer Grimes naming their newborn baby X Æ A-12.

But just when it seemed like things couldn’t possibly get any weirder, Wednesday night rolled around with a Twitter feud no one could have anticipated: Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose vs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Rose threw down the gauntlet shortly before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when he hopped on his seldom-used Twitter account and declared to his 1.2 million followers, without context, “Whatever anyone may have previously thought of Steve Mnuchin he’s officially an a--hole.”

“It’s official!” tweeted the rock star, who is a prominent critic of President Trump.

Then, in a move that prompted collective surprise, Mnuchin hit back.

“What have you done for the country lately?” he tweeted, tacking what appeared to be an emoji of the United States flag to the end of his response.

Upon closer examination, however, eagle-eyed social media users noticed that Mnuchin had actually used an icon of the flag of Liberia, which is nearly identical to the American flag except instead of 50 stars it has only one. The original tweet was deleted and replaced with one using the correct flag, but not before numerous images had been taken.

The flag mix-up didn’t escape Rose’s attention either.

“My bad I didn’t get we’re hoping 2 emulate Liberia’s economic model,” Rose tweeted sarcastically, before revealing what prompted him to go after Mnuchin in the first place.

“But on the real unlike this admin I’m not responsible for 70k+ deaths n’ unlike u I don’t hold a fed gov position of responsibility 2 the American people n’ go on TV tellin them 2 travel the US during a pandemic,” he wrote.

Rose appeared to be referencing Mnuchin’s interview Monday with Fox Business Network. When asked by host Maria Bartiromo whether he thought international travel might resume this year, Mnuchin said it is “too hard to tell” and suggested that Americans should consider traveling more domestically.

“This is a great time for people to explore America,” Mnuchin said. “A lot of people haven’t seen many parts of America. I wish I could get back on the road soon.”

Representatives for Rose and Mnuchin did not respond to requests for comment late Wednesday.

It didn’t take long for Wednesday’s bizarre exchange to spark a social media frenzy. By early Thursday, the Mad Libs-like combination of “Axl Rose,” “Steve Mnuchin” and “Liberia” was still trending on Twitter.

Some commentators attempted to make sense of the bizarre exchange, which notably came one day after the Guns N’ Roses version of “Live and Let Die” blared over the loudspeakers at a mask-making facility in Phoenix while Trump was there for a visit.

President Trump visited a face mask factory in Phoenix on May 5 but declined to wear a mask. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Why is the Secretary of the Treasury fighting on Twitter with Axl Rose?” one person asked. “2020 is becoming more weird by the minute.”

Others rushed to criticize Mnuchin not only for mixing up the flags but also for taking the time to engage in the seemingly trivial war of words with Rose amid the pandemic.

“Pretty hilarious to call out Axl Rose’s American patriotism and then ADD THE WRONG FLAG,” music writer Corbin Reiff tweeted.

Several people also defended Rose, arguing that the musician, as one critic put it, “has done way more for this country” than Mnuchin.

U.S. citizen children with undocumented parents unfairly denied coronavirus relief, federal lawsuit asserts

“There is a 100% chance America would be better off with Axl Rose as Secretary of the Treasury, Slash as Secretary of State and Duff McKagan as Secretary of Commerce instead of Steve Mnuchin, Mike Pompeo and Wilbur Ross,” tweeted Brandon Friedman, who served as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration.

In another tweet, writer and lawyer Amee Vanderpool wrote, “To answer your question @stevenmnuchin1, @axlrose doing November Rain 30 years ago alone counts for more than you will ever accomplish.”

Meanwhile, Republican political consultant Rick Wilson had a different take on Wednesday’s events.

“The Rose/Mnuchin War is 2020′s next sign of the endtimes,” he tweeted.