WASHINGTON – In the early days of the Trump administration, a time when weighty decisions had to be made about war and peace, the president maintained a singular focus – on badgers.
A new book by Daily Beast journalists Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng reportedly describes President Trump’s obsession with the beloved mascot of Reince Priebus’ home state of Wisconsin.
“Are they mean to people?” he would ask Priebus, then his chief of staff. “Or are they friendly creatures?” Trump asked Priebus for photos of badgers and to explain how badgers “work.” Does it have a “personality,” or is it boring? How aggressive is it when threatened?
Markay and Suebsaeng write: “An obviously enthralled president would stare at Priebus as the aide struggled for sufficiently placating answers, all the while trying to gently veer the conversation back to whether we were going to do a troop surge.”
Priebus should not have been so dismissive of this line of questioning. Trump might have been offering clues into his way of thinking. Consider some of the traits the 45th president has in common with the wily mammal:
Badgers are “gruff and grumpy,” “burly” and “slow and awkward.”
The badger is a “voracious eater” and has a distinctive fur pattern on its head.
The badger is “solitary,” but the male “may mate with more than one female.”
The badger “has lots of different dens and burrows.”
Under attack, the badger “hisses, growls, squeals and snarls.”
Its ferocious cousin, the honey badger, is an Internet celebrity for having “no regard for any other animal … It just takes what it wants.”
Most intriguing: Badgers “are known for their bad attitudes, but they’re willing to work alongside other animals if it benefits them.” In fact, the American badger has a transactional relationship with the coyote, in which they hunt together. But the relationship of convenience ends in the winter, when the badger finds its own food underground and “has no need for the fleet-footed coyote,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports.
Is there a better description of Trump? He profits from alliances then leaves his partners in the cold when he no longer needs them.
Winter is coming for Bill Barr.
“I’m not going to be bullied,” the attorney general told ABC News Thursday – after surrendering his lunch money to Trump for the last year. “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”
Trump, in a tweet Friday morning, showed his contempt for Barr’s bid for independence. Quoting Barr’s claim the president “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Trump added that he has “the legal right to do so … but I have so far chosen not to!”
It’s too late for Barr to rehabilitate his independence now. He misled the public about the findings from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, cleared Trump of obstruction of justice, embraced Trump’s claim the FBI was “spying” on him, worked to discredit the Russia probe, disputed the inspector general’s finding the probe had a proper basis, commissioned another probe in pursuit of his desired outcome, declined to investigate the Ukraine allegations and announced softened sentencing recommendations for Trump pal Roger Stone after Trump demanded it. Now he’s investigating the prosecution of another former Trump aide, Michael Flynn.
Now, the moment Barr shows a hint of dissent, the president makes clear he will abuse him the way he abused his predecessor, Jeff Sessions. This coyote will be out in the cold as soon as he ceases to be useful to Trump.
Retired Gen. John Kelly, likewise, is now telling us what a dreadful character Trump is – after two years of enabling him as Cabinet secretary and White House chief of staff.
Last week, as reported by the Atlantic, Kelly praised Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman – ousted by Trump from the National Security Council as impeachment retribution – because Vindman declined to follow “an illegal order.” Kelly also quarreled with Trump’s description of the media as “enemy of the people,” Trump’s treatment of North Korea, intervention in the case of a Navy SEAL convicted of posing for photos with a detainee’s corpse and characterization of immigrants.
Too bad Kelly didn’t speak up when it would have done more good – and when, on his watch, the administration put migrant children in cages.
Now Kelly’s out in the cold. “When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head,” Trump tweeted in response to Kelly.
Many other former Trump officials have spoken up too little, too late: John Bolton, Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Richard Spencer and more.
They all learn, eventually, that they were wrong to think they could work with Trump and it would turn out well. It never does. Invariably, the badger returns to his burrow, leaving his erstwhile partners alone to face the harsh winter.