Presidential cabinet meetings are, as a rule, dull. We generally see a president offer some brief remarks for the cameras, while his cabinet members watch on. Soon after, a president may answer a question or two from reporters, at which point the press is ushered out, the doors close, and the meeting begins in earnest.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, hosted his first full cabinet meeting this morning, and it wasn’t like anything we’ve ever seen, at least in the United States. The Washington Post reported:
President Trump on Monday used his first full-fledged Cabinet meeting to try to make a case that, despite the Russian investigation and other distractions, his administration is racking up accomplishments at a record clip.
“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions – case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle – who has passed more legislation and who has done more things than what we’ve done,” Trump, referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, said during the meeting at the White House.
It seems entirely plausible to me that Trump has no idea what “legislation” means, and when he signs executive orders and glorified press releases, he thinks he’s breaking major new policy ground.
But if you watch the C-SPAN video from the cabinet room, note that after the president’s odd praise for himself, Trump went around the room, offering each member of his cabinet an opportunity to talk about how much they like him and are proud to serve in his administration. With few exceptions, that’s precisely what they did.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, whose job is reportedly in jeopardy, went so far as to declare, with arms raised, “We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.”
As cabinet members went around the room, singing the president’s praises, Trump simply nodded in agreement, basking in his underlings’ adulation.
Cabinet meetings have been periodically televised since Eisenhower, but no one has ever seen one quite as creepy as Trump’s display this morning.
CNBC’s John Harwood, apparently flabbergasted, said via Twitter, “Honestly this is like a scene from the Third World.”
The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush described it “one of the most exquisitely awkward public events I’ve ever seen.”
For the record, I don’t necessarily blame the cabinet members, at least not all of them. They were put on the spot, and given what they (and we) know about Trump, the cabinet members have reason to fear for their careers if they fail to compliment in ways he finds flattering.
Which is why I do blame the president, who didn’t have to host a meeting as creepy as this one for the cameras.
It was so over the top that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his staff pounced, quickly pulling together a satirical staff meeting in the senator’s conference room, mocking the tone and the rhetoric of Trump’s cabinet meeting.
A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published an interesting piece noting the “outlandish” praise Trump’s aides use when talking about the president, and the article quoted Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican consultant, saying, “It’s insecure, over-the-top. I call it Great Leader-esque.”
Whether Trump understands this or not is unclear.