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Why Trump's cabinet meetings have a cult-like quality

Donald Trump has set the tone in this White House, and he's made it painfully clear that he expects more than just loyalty -- he also wants to be celebrated.
Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 03: (AFP OUT) US President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (R) looks...

Donald Trump hosted his first full cabinet meeting in June, and the political world wasn't fully prepared for how much it departed from traditional presidential cabinet meetings. As regular readers may recall, the Republican went around the room, offering each member of his cabinet an opportunity to talk about how happy they are to be on his team.

The result was downright creepy. CNBC's John Harwood‏, apparently flabbergasted, said at the time, "Honestly this is like a scene from the Third World." Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his staff quickly put together a satirical meeting in the senator's conference room, mocking the tone and the rhetoric of Trump's gathering.

The mockery apparently didn't bother Trump World, because yesterday's cabinet meeting was arguably worse.

Trump asked HUD Secretary Ben Carson to say grace, and Carson proceeded to thank God for "a president and for Cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us." Then, as the Washington Post  reported, it was Vice President Mike Pence's turn.

Over nearly three minutes, Pence offered plaudit after plaudit after plaudit, praising Trump's vision, his words, his strategy and his results in light of the passage of tax cuts. By the end, Pence offered 14 separate commendations for Trump in less than three minutes -- math that works out to one every 12.5 seconds. And each bit of praise was addressed directly to Trump, who was seated directly across the table.

After the cabinet meeting, the White House issued a written statement quoting members of Trump's cabinet talking about how impressed they are with Trump's record.

Somewhere, Kim Jong-un could be heard saying, "Jeez, I think you guys are overdoing it a bit."

I imagine some of the president's supporters might suggest it may not be Trump's fault that these cabinet meetings seem to have a cult-like quality. He doesn't know what members of his team are going to say in advance, so maybe he's surprised by all the gushing adulation.

But that's ultimately unpersuasive. Trump has set the tone in this White House, and he's made it painfully clear that he expects more than just loyalty and hard work -- he also wants to be celebrated and praised by those around him. Those who fall short of flattery risk retribution.

In other words, the president doesn't have to host creepy cabinet meetings; Trump just seems to prefer them this way.

Over the summer, 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."

Conditions in the White House have apparently not improved.