On Monday morning, the White House invited reporters in to watch what was billed as a meeting of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, led by the president himself.
Now, any meeting of a modern-day president’s full Cabinet is more for show than anything else — there are simply too many people at the table, with roles that are too disparate, for anything of substance to be done.
Furthermore, any political meeting that’s conducted in front of the press is necessarily a bit of a PR stunt — serious discussion and debate happens in private, away from the TV cameras.
Still, Trump’s Cabinet meeting struck reporters who attended as particularly odd and bizarre — because after the president spoke, he had each of the Cabinet members around the table briefly speak too, and their comments often included praise for the president.
“We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda,” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said. “Greatest privilege of my life, to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” said Vice President Mike Pence. “You’ve set the exact right message,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, adding, “The response is fabulous around the country.” Here’s the video:
It’s not so unusual for the president’s Cabinet officials to publicly praise the president, to say they’re honored to serve, and to argue that the administration’s doing good work (because they usually believe it!). And most Cabinet secretaries’ comments did indeed focus on their work.
Still, the political cognoscenti is rarely in the mood to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on anything like this — particularly after fired FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that Trump wanted “loyalty” from him.
So the roundtable Cabinet meeting quickly became A Thing.
“Trump is inviting his Cabinet members to go around the table praising him,” CNBC’s John Harwood tweeted, continuing, “honestly this is like a scene from the Third World.” And the New York Times’s Glenn Thrush called it “one of the most exquisitely awkward public events I've ever seen.”
Others compared Trump’s performance to the beginning of King Lear, when the old king demanded that his daughters lavishly praise him in public, and disinherited poor Cordelia, who wouldn’t.
Turns out Trump isn't Julius Caesar, he's King Lear.— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) June 12, 2017
And then Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly put up a video in which his own staff praised him on camera: