When you’re on your last leg, when your colleagues have turned tail, when the House of Representatives passes the rules under which you will almost certainly be impeached — you have to be creative.
Thus, it came to pass that Donald Trump, the first president in 120 years to not have a dog, created a national hero in the canine Conan, who cornered Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whereupon the kingpin committed suicide.
Conan is, no doubt, a hero. Indeed, this particular pooch is coming to the White House soon for a hero’s welcome because that’s how barking mad this president has become. Not that I would deny Conan his due — perhaps a lifetime supply of his favorite treats? But an invitation to the White House?
Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. Full stop. Anyone who knows me wants to come back as my dog. I do, too. But this isn’t really about the dog. As always, it’s about Trump. Question: What do we know about Trump? He craves attention. What will he do to get attention? When things start going south for Trump, what does he routinely do? Creates a distraction. Even roll out the red carpet for a dog? Yes!
When killing Baghdadi wasn’t sufficient to distract Americans from the Democrats’ impeachment obsession, it became obvious that Trump needed something even bigger, something to make Americans see him and feel happy. But what? Another question: What do Americans love more than baseball (go Nats!)? Someone surely whispered in his ear: Dogs, sir. Americans love dogs. If Trump wants to be loved, he must love dogs, too.
Trump the germaphobe doesn’t seem to love dogs, but Trump the branding president loves a winning idea. He must have felt lucky last week when he spied a doctored photo of himself draping a blue ribbon with a medal attached around Conan’s neck. Naturally, he posted it to his Twitter feed Wednesday with the caption “AMERICAN HERO” and, goodness gracious, you’d have thought he had dognapped Lassie and sold her to Cruella de Vil. Blasphemy! Fake news! Woof-woof.
The image had been edited by The Daily Wire, and clearly in good fun. The original photo, taken at a 2017 Medal of Honor ceremony, showed Trump and the actual award recipient, whose face was later replaced with Conan’s. Whatever Trump intended in posting the photo, it worked. For at least a few days, Twitter was howling about little else and tweeters began posting photos of their “declassified” dog heroes. (My own Ollie the Blind Poodle even took a bow.)
The upside was: We got to talk about our dogs! The downside: Trump was ridiculed for posting a doctored photo — and the first step of his impeachment won the day. Moral of the story: You can wag the dog if you want to, but you can’t dog the wags. Not for long, anyway.
Apparently pleased with the fake image, however, Trump intends to make it real. Conan is coming to the White House soon, says the president, though no details of a ceremony — or a medal — were initially announced.
If this were really about Conan, I’d be setting the DVR, but we know otherwise. The honoring of Conan is the desperate measure of a man who has seen the end of his own tunnel — and there’s no pretty light. Nearly lost in all the canine clutter is the real American hero whose face was displaced by Conan’s — Vietnam War medic James McCloughan. He wasn’t offended by the edited photo, he said, but he’s not the sort to whine. Rather, he’s the sort to rush headlong into enemy fire to save wounded American soldiers.
That’s what a Medal of Honor represents. Exceptional bravery, risk to oneself in the service of others and, in an important distinction, the conscious decision to sacrifice oneself if necessary to save another. For Trump to circulate a faked photo of himself seemingly bestowing the Medal of Honor on a dog trivializes the award, even if some recipients don’t mind.
Dog people may find some comic relief in reflecting on what dogs know. They can quickly assess when someone is not a good human. They also know instinctively who isn’t a dog person. One feels like danger, the other smells like fear. Given which, Trump may want to keep a respectful distance from Conan when he arrives — and hope that our fearless fellow on four legs has already had his dinner.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.