Which makes what former Attorney General Bill Barr thinks of Donald Trump all the more important — and intriguing. In excerpts of his forthcoming book obtained by the Washington Post, Barr takes a decidedly dim view of the former President after working closely together for much of the final two years of his time in office.
“People are worthwhile to Trump only as means to his ends — as utensils. When they don’t help him get what he wants, they are useless.”
That is as concise — and accurate — of a description I have seen yet of the purely transactional nature of how Trump engages with the everyone he meets. For Trump, you are useful to him if you are willing to do what he wants you to do. The second you stop doing exactly what he wants you to do, you turn into an impediment to him — and the enemy.
(This is not to excuse Barr and his indulgences of Trump; he should have known what he was getting into. It’s not as though Trump hid his true nature from, well, anyone.)
Examples of Trump’s transactional approach to politics are littered throughout his presidency. But it’s worth pulling out two specific cases.
When then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions became the first senator to endorse Trump back in February 2016, Trump couldn’t get enough of him. He liked Sessions so much that he eventually nominated him to be US attorney general, calling him “a world-class legal mind” and adding: “Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.”
Then Sessions recused himself from the FBI investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election.
Sessions had stopped being useful to Trump. And Trump went to war with his own attorney general. He called him “scared stiff and Missing in Action.” He said he was “beleaguered.” And according to the New York Times, Trump called Sessions an “idiot” to his face in May 2017 and said he should resign. (There’s more — lots more.) In November 2018, Trump fired Sessions.
Then there’s the case of former Vice President Mike Pence. After the lone vice presidential debate in 2016, Trump took credit for Pence. “Mike Pence did an incredible job and I’m getting a lot of credit because this was my so-called first choice, that was my first hire as we would say,” said Trump.
Pence reciprocated for most of Trump’s presidency. He was as obsequious as possible — one-upping every other Trump sycophant at every turn. (Read this for more on that.)
Then Trump demanded that Pence overturn the 2020 election on January 6, 2021. This exchange, reported by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their book “Peril,” speaks to how the duo’s relationship eroded.
Trump said, according to the authors: “No, no, no! You don’t understand, Mike. You can do this. I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”
There’s myriad other examples during Trump’s tenure of this sort of behavior. It’s the defining trait of the man who spent four years as president and is giving every indication that he will run again in 2024.
For Trump, the world is divided into two kinds of people: Those who are willing to do his bidding and those who aren’t. The first are allies; the second are enemies. It’s just that simple.