Yesterday, President Trump held the first meeting of his full Cabinet. That would be newsworthy in itself as the White House struggles to staff nearly every area of government. But the meeting went next-level when the 23 cabinet secretaries spoke in turn around the table, praising Trump one by one.
The gathering opened with signs that it was going to be something special: Flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump declared, “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions — the case of FDR, he had a major Depression to handle — who has passed more legislation, who has done more things than what we’ve done.” (In case it's not clear, the president's statement is demonstrably untrue.)
Then as news cameras rolled, the lovefest began. Privilege as bestowed by Trump was a prominent theme, along with the gratitude for it.
"Thank you for the honor to serve the country. It's a great privilege you've given me," said Tillerson.
"It is just the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to the president who's keeping his word to the American people and assembling a team that's bringing real change, real prosperity, real strength back to our nation," said Pence.
"I can't thank you enough for the privileges you've given me and the leadership that you've shown. It seems like there's an international flair to the messages that are being delivered," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
"It was a great honor traveling with you around the country for the last year and an even greater honor to be here serving on your Cabinet," said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
And so on. Then, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked everyone to hold his beer, thanking Trump for “giving us the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda.”
The display struck many as disturbing. "This is a more common occurrence in nondemocratic regimes, which are trying to portray themselves as being popular," Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College told NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday.
Even some Republicans were put off by it.
Convo w/Cuban— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) June 13, 2017
Me: Did u see Trump Cabinet mtng?
Him: I lived under Fidel. Not even he made ppl grovel so much...& he could execute them.
So who got the brownnose award at today's cabinet meeting?— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) June 13, 2017
Response from other quarters was often eye-opening. The comparison to authoritarian regimes was frequent.
I live in a dictatorship in Egypt & even the dictator here doesnt have his cabinet go around the room praising him for cameras. That's 'sad'— Timothy E Kaldas (@tekaldas) June 13, 2017
On #MorningJoe, Eugene Robinson said Putin would be embarrassed by the display of "abasement" in Trump's cabinet meeting.— Peter Daou (@peterdaou) June 13, 2017
Emperor Trump's sycophantic cabinet meeting stinks of Beijing-like obeisance | Isaac Stone Fish https://t.co/LxoYxlb3zI— The Guardian (@guardian) June 13, 2017
Trump's cabinet offers a postgraduate-level course in ass-kissing.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) June 13, 2017
The only thing missing from the Trump cabinet meeting today were tanks rolling by the White House and a fireworks display. Next time.— Steve Redmond (@sjredmond) June 13, 2017
Yesterday, we saw the President's team of rivals compete for top sycophant. Who can we count on to tell the President when he's wrong?— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) June 13, 2017
I want to ask all those cabinet members who “Dear Leader”-ed Trump today if they truly want their kids to grow up to be like Trump.— Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) June 13, 2017
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer got in a multimedia jab via a quickly produced satirical video, indicating that congressional business has, by dictionary definition, become a parody of a travesty.
GREAT meeting today with the best staff in the history of the world!!! pic.twitter.com/ocE1xhEAac— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 12, 2017