Last week our president held the first meeting of his entire cabinet, and, perhaps in character for a man in love with superlatives, it was the strangest cabinet of all time. According to the C-SPAN transcript, President Trump began with a rambling, self-congratulatory, largely fact-free (his administration does not have the best legislative record in history, but one of the worst; the reason most of his appointees have not been approved by the Senate is that the vast majority have yet to be submitted; and so on. . .) He ended his soliloquy of self-praise with an invitation for each of his cabinet secretaries to introduce themselves to the group.
While the president’s opening statement left little doubt who his number one fan is, there was plenty of competition for the second spot, starting, appropriately, with Vice-President Mike Pence, who said, “Thank you, Mr. President, and just the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people.” This display of flattery set the tone for the other 22 folks around the table. Some of the, for lack of a better word, highlights, include:
Alexander Alcosta, Secretary of Labor: “Mr. President, my privilege to be here, deeply honored.”: Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary: “What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank enough for the privilege that you’ve given me.”
Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy: “Mr. President, an honor to be on the team.”
Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior: “It’s an honor to be your steward of our public lands and the generator of energy dominance. I am deeply honored.”
Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture: “I just got back from Mississippi. They love you there.”
Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury: “It’s been a great honor traveling with you around the country for the past year, and an even greater honor to be serving you on your Cabinet . . .”
Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation: “Thank you for coming over to the Department of Transportation. Hundreds and hundreds of people were so thrilled to hang out, watching the whole ceremony. I want to thank you for getting this country moving again, and also working again.”
Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Trade Representative: “I apologize for being late for work. For about four months, I got bogged down in that swamp you’ve been trying to drain.” There was a lot more increasingly fulsome praise. However, in every group, there’s always one guy who doesn’t get the message, who doesn’t see which way the wind is blowing.
That day in the cabinet, the guy was Defense Secretary General James Mattis, who said,”It’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense. And we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength. Thank you.” Imagine! Given the opportunity to kiss up to the boss, this guy makes the rookie error of praising those under his command!
Thank goodness Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was on hand to get things back on track and bring the symphony of adulation to a close. Priebus said, “On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to se rve your agenda and the American people. And we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.”
The only thing more embarrassing than the torrent of flattery was the occasional shots of President Trump which revealed how much he enjoyed it. The president’s reaction brings to mind a quote attributed to Mark Twain. “I have been complimented many times, and they always embarrass me,” Twain is portrayed as saying. “I always feel they have not said enough.”