In a viral tweet last year, horror novelist Stephen King pulled a quote from “Animal Farm” to illustrate his view of Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Let’s just say, it resonated.
This Thanksgiving week, however, the term “animal farm” has assumed new meaning at the White House, which hasn’t been visited by so many claws and paws since Teddy Roosevelt moved in with his menagerie, including a pony. Though Trump has no pets of his own, he seems to have traded in his ringmaster’s top hat for a shepherd’s staff.
In the past few days, he has honored a dog, saved two turkeys and signed into law the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, legislation that makes cruelty to animals a federal crime. Not to go overboard, but it would appear that the man previously bereft of empathy has discovered his heart. Either that, or he’s refreshing his image as a distraction from the I-word. Surely, not the Donald.
If it is true that the media are often relentless in their criticism of this president — and it is — then it ought to also be true that good deeds are recognized and appreciated. Trump could be engineering a new election ploy for 2020, but if he wants to sell himself as a good shepherd committed to ending cruelty to animals, fine by me. Pretending to care about the helpless, after all, is good practice for actual caring.
In order of appearances, the dog-of-honor was none other than Conan, the hero canine who helped trap Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Much heralded at the time, Conan had to recover from injuries before being able to visit the White House for a meeting with the president. (No word yet on whether the dog agreed to investigate the Bidens.)
At a brief ceremony on Monday, Trump described the dog as “brilliant” and announced that Conan had received a plaque and a medal. Both Trump and first lady Melania Trump kept their distances from the pooch, who initially was going to be muzzled. Conan was on a very taut and short leash and seemed uninterested in anyone but Vice President Pence, who stroked the dog’s head — as one would.
Later the same day, Trump signed the PACT Act. Previous versions of the law were opposed by a handful of legislators, especially former congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), presumably out of deference to constituents who view animal cruelty as a right.
Those days are over, thanks to the perseverance of animal rights activists and the bill’s bipartisan sponsors, Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.). The law will apply to all 50 states, obviously, and also to the 16 U.S. territories. Without going into the awful specifics, the law basically says causing pain or serious bodily injury to any living nonhuman mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians is a crime. Videos showing cruelty are also unlawful.
Finally, on Tuesday at 2 p.m. sharp, the president met in the Rose Garden with two turkeys, named Bread and Butter — and both were spared the guillotine. As he did last year, Trump pardoned both birds, who will live out their days at Gobblers Rest, a sort of retirement home for lucky turkeys at Virginia Tech. It’s not the Willard Hotel, where the turkeys killed time before their meeting with Trump, but last year’s survivors, Peas and Carrots, reportedly give the joint a thumbs-up.
While Conan, Bread and Butter are symbolic characters in this not-quite Orwellian tale, the PACT Act is a bold step toward ending cruelty and sending perpetrators to prison for up to seven years. As Thanksgivings go, this one provides much for which to be grateful: one hero dog, two pardoned turkeys and a PACT with a presidential seal. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking a pear tree for Christmas.