Timothy Treadwell loved the grizzly bears. He spent 13 summers living among them in the national parks and wilds of Alaska. The wilderness enthusiast started a grassroots organization, “Grizzly People,” whose mission was to raise awareness about the majestic grizzly and the threats it faces.
To that end, he filmed himself over his summers with the grizzlies, narrating the fishing outings and grazing habits of 700-pound creatures. Sitting surreally close to the giant animals, he’d describe the personalities and habits of bears he’d affectionately dubbed “Mr. Chocolate” and “Aunt Melissa.”
At times, the eccentric naturalist would acknowledge his precarious position from behind his Oakleys and shaggy blonde hair: “If I am weak, they will exploit it, they will take me out. They will decapitate me. They will chop me into bits and pieces. I’m dead. But so far, I persevere.”
Ultimately Treadwell believed he could live alongside the grizzlies, that by acting like them and demonstrating boldness, he had gained their trust. He believed he understood them and they understood him. Although the bears looked dangerous to others, Treadwell was convinced they knew what he had sacrificed for them and would honor it with their loyalty.
I couldn’t help but think of Treadwell when news broke Monday that Corey Lewandowski and the Trump campaign had “parted ways.”
According to New York Times and CNN reporting, Trump fired his campaign manager, perhaps at the urging of his children and other staffers in the wake of polls showing him floundering in a general election. During months of infighting amongst the brigade of failed primary campaign managers and throw-backs Trump had assembled to run his campaign, Trump spokespeople and the candidate himself assured everyone all was well. When Lewandowski was accused of and then caught on tape grabbing former Breitbart.com reporter Michelle Fields by the arm in a scrum, the campaign lied about her and her claims at every turn to back Lewandowski.
The candidate whose catchphrase is literally “You’re fired” crowed about his legendary loyalty as he congratulated Lewandowski on a “good job” from the stage on the night of his primary victory in Florida. He later downgraded the campaign manager, throwing him into a quarterback controversy he was bound to lose to the ascendant Paul Manafort.
And now this.
Here’s the thing about grizzly bears. You can act like them. You can attempt to gain their trust and respect. You can think you understand the grizzlies and the grizzlies understand you. You may even get away with it for a long while. But they’re still grizzly bears. They are going to turn on you and maul you. Because that’s what grizzly bears do. It is who they are.
They are not interested in you or your service or your feelings. They’re interested in their own survival and deadly vicious with anyone who might get in the way.
Every single Republican candidate or operative who thinks Trump can be tamed, is capable of pivoting to being presidential, or will adopt sound policy when prodded in a healthier direction should re-watch Warner Herzog’s 2005 documentary on Treadwell, “Grizzly Man.” Spoiler alert: It does not end well for Treadwell.
Trump is occasionally capable of adapting presidential behavior for brief periods of time. He may look the part for a moment. There was the time Manafort told Republicans they could distance themselves from Trump and he wouldn’t lash out at them. Within 24 hours, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez had done just that and gotten a verbal, public mauling in return.
“Hey! Maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico. I’ll get this place going. … She’s not doing the job. We’ve got to get her going. Come on — let’s go, governor,” Trump said at a rally in Martinez’s state, on a night where he could have been focusing on Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal in the wake of an incriminating inspector general report.
Tuesday, a group of more than 1,000 Christian faith leaders met with Trump in New York to ask him questions about religious liberty, his conversion on the abortion issue, and “take a measure of the man.” Many of them will wrestle with the same conflicts and disagreements that have led Republican governors Larry Hogan (Md.), Charlie Baker (Mass.), and Rick Snyder (Mich.) to proclaim they will not support him.
Event organizers offered a prayer guide to attendees that suggested praying that the Lord would “prepare (one’s) heart for this meeting with Donald Trump” and “acknowledge any personal feelings that would keep you from honoring Mr. Trump for his participation.”
Instead, President Ronald Reagan’s campaign famously urged Americans to elect a man who knew a bear when he saw it: “For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous.”
The prayers of the faithful are a powerful thing. They are certainly a tool you’ll want at your disposal should you decide to try your luck at inviting a bear from the woods to live in your tent this election season.
That’s because, as both Treadwell and Lewandowski have shown us, acting like the bear, working diligently on the bear’s behalf, even referring unfailingly with the utmost respect to the bear as “Mr.” won’t protect you when the bear decides to attack.